Water temperature is a non-conservative tracer in the environment. Variations in recharge temperature are damped and retarded as water moves through an aquifer due to heat exchange between water and rock. However, within karst aquifers, seasonal and short-term fluctuations in recharge temperature are often transmitted over long distances before they are fully damped. Using analytical solutions and numerical simulations, we develop relationships that describe the effect of flow path properties, flow-through time, recharge characteristics, and water and rock physical properties on the damping and retardation of thermal peaks/troughs in karst conduits. Using these relationships, one can estimate the thermal retardation and damping that would occur under given conditions with a given conduit geometry. Ultimately, these relationships can be used with thermal damping and retardation field data to estimate parameters such as conduit diameter. We also examine sets of numerical simulations where we relax some of the assumptions used to develop these relationships, testing the effects of variable diameter, variable velocity, open channels, and recharge shape on thermal damping and retardation to provide some constraints on uncertainty. Finally, we discuss a multitracer experiment that provides some field confirmation of our relationships. High temporal resolution water temperature data are required to obtain sufficient constraints on the magnitude and timing of thermal peaks and troughs in order to take full advantage of water temperature as a tracer.
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© 2015 Author(s).