Impacts of river-bed gas on the hydraulic and thermal dynamics of the hyporheic zone

Mark Cuthbert, Rae Mackay, V Durand, M-F Aller, Richard Greswell, Michael Rivett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
233 Downloads (Pure)


Despite the presence of gas in river beds being a well known phenomenon, its potential feedbacks on the hydraulic and thermal dynamics of the hyporheic zone has not been widely studied. This paper explores hypotheses that the presence of accumulated gas impacts the hydraulic and thermal dynamics of a river bed due to changes in specific storage, hydraulic conductivity, effective porosity, and thermal diffusivity. The hypotheses are tested using data analysis and modelling for a study site on the urban River Tame, Birmingham, UK. Gas, predominantly attributed to microbial denitrification, was observed in the river bed up to around 14% by volume, and to at least 0.8 m depth below river bed. Numerical modelling indicates that, by altering the relative hydraulic conductivity distribution, the gas in the river bed leads to an increase of groundwater discharge from the river banks (relative to river bed) by a factor of approximately 2 during river low flow periods. The increased compressible storage of the gas phase in the river bed leads to an increase in the simulated volume of river water invading the river bed within the centre of the channel during storm events. The exchange volume can be more than 30% greater in comparison to that for water saturated conditions. Furthermore, the presence of gas also reduces the water-filled porosity, and so the possible depth of such invading flows may also increase markedly, by more than a factor of 2 in the observed case. Observed diurnal temperature variations within the gaseous river bed at 0.1 and 0.5 m depth are, respectively, around 1.5 and 6 times larger than those predicted for saturated sediments. Annual temperature fluctuations are seen to be enhanced by around 4 to 20% compared to literature values for saturated sediments. The presence of gas may thus alter the bulk thermal properties to such a degree that the use of heat tracer techniques becomes subject to a much greater degree of uncertainty. Although the likely magnitude of thermal and hydraulic changes due to the presence of gas for this site have been demonstrated, further research is needed into the origins of the gas and its spatial and temporal variability to enable quantification of the significance of these changes for chemical attenuation and hyporheic zone biology. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1358
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number11
Early online date8 Oct 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010


  • Gas
  • River bed
  • Hyporheic zone
  • Hydraulics
  • Heat flow
  • Groundwater


Dive into the research topics of 'Impacts of river-bed gas on the hydraulic and thermal dynamics of the hyporheic zone'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this