Experimental evidence of deep infiltration under sandy flats and gullies in the Sahel

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Journal Article
Journal of Hydrology, 2012, 424-425 pp. 1 - 15
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Despite the strong reduction in rainfall observed after 1968, the water table of some endorheic areas in the Sahel has been found to be rising over the last several decades. It has been previously demonstrated that this is due to land use changes which have led to a severe increase in runoff and erosion. In such areas, the excess in runoff causes a strong increase in the number of ponds, their sizes and thus, their duration. Ponds have been identified as the main zones of deep infiltration of water. The aim of this study was to investigate whether other areas of the Sahelian region could also be defined as deep infiltration ones as well, and then, whether they were contributing to aquifer recharge. Soil water content was surveyed for five consecutive years (2004-2008) by implementing a set of measurement devices at different depths. The hydrologic water balance was monitored at stream flow gauge stations located upstream and downstream of two small endorheic catchments. The observed replacement of bush vegetation by crops and fallow areas led to the appearance of extended bare soil areas due to both aeolian and hydric erosion, triggering a strong reduction in soil infiltrability under millet fields and fallow lands as well as in the soil water holding capacity. It also resulted in the formation of a great number of gullies and sand sediment deposits in the endorheic areas. Measurements showed that sandy deposits correspond in fact to large areas of deep infiltration: tens of thousands of cubic meters of water infiltrated catchments of less than 1km 2. Runoff decreased by up to 50% in the sandy deposit areas, while infiltration (close to 1300mmh -1) was observed up to depths of 10m. These factors would raise the water table and significantly modify the surface and sub-surface components of the water cycle. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
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