Numerical representation of groundwater-surface water exchange and the effect on streamflow contribution estimates

Sachin Karan, Martin Jacobsen, Jolanta Kazmierczak, José A. Reyna-Gutiérrez, Thomas Breum, Peter Engesgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of streams and drainage representation in 3D numerical catchment scale models on estimated streamflow contribution were investigated. MODFLOW-USG was used to represent complex geology and a stream network with two different conceptualizations—one with equal cell discretization in the entire model domain and another with refined cell discretization along stream reaches. Both models were calibrated against a large data set including hydraulic heads and streamflow measurements. Though the optimized hydraulic parameters and statistical performance of both model conceptualizations were comparable, their estimated streamflow contribution differed substantially. In the conceptualization with equal cell discretization, the drainage contribution to the streamflow was 13% compared to 41% in the conceptualization with refined cell discretization. The increase in drainage contribution to streamflow was attributed to the increase in drainage area in proximity to the stream reaches arising from the refined discretization. e.g., the cell refinement along stream reaches reduced the area occupied by stream cells allowing for increased drain area adjacent to the stream reaches. As such, an increase in drainage area equivalent to 7% yielded a 146% increase in drainage contribution to streamflow. In-stream field measurements of groundwater-surface water exchange fluxes that were qualitatively compared to calculated fluxes from the models indicated that estimates from the refined model discretization were more representative. Hence, the results of this study accentuate the importance of being able to represent stream and drain flow contribution correctly, that is, to achieve representative exchange fluxes that are crucial in simulating groundwater–surface water exchange of both flow and solute transport in catchment scale modeling. To that end, the in-stream measurements of exchange fluxes showed the potential to serve as a proxy to numerically estimate drainage contribution that is not readily available at the catchment scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1923
Number of pages13
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2021


  • Drainage
  • Flow balance contribution
  • Groundwater-surface water exchange
  • Numerical dis-cretization

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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