Water percolation process studies in a Mediterranean karst area

J. Lange, Y. Arbel, T. Grodek, N. Greenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To investigate processes of water percolation, the drip response of stalactites in a karstic cave below a 143 m2 sprinkling plot was measured. The experiment was conducted in Mount Carmel, Israel, at the end of the dry season and intended to simulate a series of two high-intensity storms on dry and wet soils. In addition to hydrometric measurements (soil moisture, surface runoff, stalactite dripping rates), two types of tracers (electrical conductivity and bromide) were used to study recharge processes, water origin and mixing inside a 28-m vadose zone. Results suggested that slow, continuous percolation through the rock matrix is of minor importance and that percolating water follows a complicated pattern including vertical and horizontal flow directions. While bromide tracing allowed identification of quick direct flow paths at all drips with maximum flow velocities of 4.3 m/h, mixing analysis suggested that major water fractions were mobilized by piston flow, pushing out water stored in the unsaturated zone above the cave. Under dry preconditions, 80 mm of artificial rainfall applied in less than 7 h was not enough to initiate significant downward water percolation. Most water was required to fill uppermost soil and rock storages. Under wet preconditions during the second day sprinkling, higher water contents in soils and karst cavities facilitated piston flow effects and a more intense response of the cave drips. Results indicate that in Mediterranean karst regions, filling of the unsaturated zone, including soil and rock storages, is an important precondition for the onset of significant water percolation and recharge. This results in a higher seasonal threshold for water percolation than for the generation of surface runoff.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1866-1879
Number of pages14
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Mediterranean karst
  • Percolation
  • Seasonal threshold
  • Sprinkling experiment
  • Unsaturated zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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