Straight thinking about groundwater recession

M. O. Cuthbert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
204 Downloads (Pure)


While in catchment and hillslope hydrology a more nuanced approach is now taken to streamflow recession analysis, in the context of major aquifers it is commonly still assumed that the groundwater head recession rate will take exponential form, an idea originally proposed in the 19th Century. However it is shown here that, in early times, the groundwater head recession in a major aquifer should take an almost straight line form with a rate approximately equal to the long-term recharge rate divided by the aquifer storage coefficient. The length of this phase can be estimated from an analytical expression derived in the paper which depends on the aquifer diffusivity, length scale, and the position of the monitoring point. A transitional phase then leads to an exponential phase after some critical time which is independent of the position of the monitoring point. Major aquifers in a state of periodic quasi-steady state are expected to have rates of groundwater flux recession which deviate little from the average rate of groundwater recharge. Where quasi-exponential groundwater declines are observed in nature, their form may be diagnostic of particular types of aquifer properties and/or boundary effects, such as proximity to drainage boundaries, variations in transmissivity with hydraulic head, storage changes due to pumping, nonequilibrium flow at a range of spatial and temporal scales, and variations in specific yield with depth. Recession analysis has applicability to a range of groundwater problems and is powerful way of gaining insight into the hydrologic functioning of an aquifer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2407-2424
Number of pages18
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • groundwater hydraulics
  • groundwater recession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Straight thinking about groundwater recession'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this