Skip to main content

Groundwater recharge processes in an Asian mega-delta: hydrometric evidence from Bangladesh

Processus de recharge des eaux souterraines dans un méga-delta d’Asie: preuves hydrométriques au Bengladesh

Procesos de recarga de aguas subterráneas en un megadelta asiático: evidencias hidrométricas de Bangladesh

亚洲巨型三角洲地下水的补给过程:孟加拉国的水文证据

Processos de recarga de água subterrânea em um mega-delta asiático: evidências hidrométricas de Bangladesh

Abstract

Groundwater is used intensively in Asian mega-deltas yet the processes by which groundwater is replenished in these deltaic systems remain inadequately understood. Drawing insight from hourly monitoring of groundwater levels and rainfall in two contrasting settings, comprising permeable surficial deposits of Holocene age and Plio-Pleistocene terrace deposits, together with longer-term, lower-frequency records of groundwater levels, river stage, and rainfall from the Bengal Basin, conceptual models of recharge processes in these two depositional environments are developed. The representivity of these conceptual models across the Bengal Basin in Bangladesh is explored by way of statistical cluster analysis of groundwater-level time series data. Observational records reveal that both diffuse and focused recharge processes occur in Holocene deposits, whereas recharge in Plio-Pleistocene deposits is dominated by indirect leakage from river channels where incision has enabled a direct hydraulic connection between river channels and the Plio-Pleistocene aquifer underlying surficial clays. Seasonal cycles of recharge and discharge including the onset of dry-season groundwater-fed irrigation are well characterised by compiled observational records. Groundwater depletion, evident from declining groundwater levels with a diminished seasonality, is pronounced in Plio-Pleistocene environments where direct recharge is inhibited by the surficial clays. In contrast, intensive shallow groundwater abstraction in Holocene environments can enhance direct and indirect recharge via a more permeable surface geology. The vital contributions of indirect recharge of shallow groundwater identified in both depositional settings in the Bengal Basin highlight the critical limitation of using models that exclude this process in the estimation of groundwater recharge in Asian mega-deltas.

Résumé

Les eaux souterraines sont utilisées de manière intensive dans les méga-deltas d’Asie, pourtant les processus par lesquels les eaux souterraines se reconstituent dans ces systèmes deltaïques restent insuffisamment connus. En tirant des enseignements de la surveillance horaire des niveaux d’eau souterraine et des précipitations dans deux configurations contrastées, consistant en des dépôts superficiels perméables d’âge holocène et des dépôts de terrasses plio-pléistocènes, en même temps que des enregistrements de plus long terme et de plus basse fréquence des niveaux d’eau souterraine, du niveau du fleuve et des précipitations dans le Bassin du Bengale, des modèles conceptuels des processus de recharge pour ces deux contextes sédimentaires ont été développés. La représentativité de ces modèles conceptuels englobant le bassin du Bengale au Bengladesh est étudiée par le biais de l’analyse des groupes statistiques de séries chronologiques du niveau de l’eau souterraine. Les observations enregistrées révèlent que des processus de recharge, aussi bien diffuse que concentrée, se produisent dans les dépôts holocènes tandis que la recharge des dépôts plio-pléistocènes est contrôlée par des pertes indirectes depuis les chenaux de la rivière où l’incision a permis une connexion hydraulique directe entre les chenaux et l’aquifère plio-pléistocène sous-jacent aux argiles de surface. Les cycles saisonniers de recharge et décharge, incluant le début d’une irrigation alimentée par les eaux souterraines en saison sèche, sont bien caractérisés par les enregistrements des observations compilées. L’épuisement des eaux souterraines, démontré par le déclin des niveaux accompagné d’une saisonnalité diminuée, est prononcé dans les contextes plio-pléistocènes où la recharge directe est gênée par les argiles de surface. A l’inverse, l’exploitation intensive des nappes phréatiques dans les contextes holocènes peut augmenter la recharge directe et indirecte à travers des terrains de surface plus perméables. La contribution essentielle de la recharge indirecte des nappes phréatiques, identifiée dans deux contextes sédimentaires du Bassin du Bengale, met en lumière l’importante limite des modèles utilisés, qui excluent ce procédé de l’estimation de la recharge des eaux souterraines dans les méga-deltas d’Asie.

Resumen

Las aguas subterráneas se utilizan intensamente en los mega-deltas asiáticos, pero los procesos por los que se recarga el agua de los acuíferos en estos sistemas deltaicos siguen sin comprenderse adecuadamente. A partir de la información obtenida mediante el monitoreo horario de los niveles y las precipitaciones en dos escenarios contrastantes, que comprenden los depósitos superficiales permeables de la era holocena y los depósitos en terrazas del plio-pleistoceno, junto con los registros a más largo plazo y de menor frecuencia de los niveles de aguas subterráneas, la etapa fluvial y las precipitaciones de la cuenca de Bengala, se elaboran modelos conceptuales de los procesos de recarga en estos dos ambientes de sedimentación. La representatividad de esos modelos conceptuales en toda la cuenca de Bengala, en Bangladesh, se estudia mediante el análisis estadístico de conjuntos de datos de series cronológicas de niveles de aguas subterráneas. Los registros de las observaciones indican que en los depósitos del Holoceno se producen procesos de recarga tanto difusos como puntuales, mientras que en los depósitos del Plio-Pleistoceno la recarga está dominada por las filtraciones indirectas de los cauces de los ríos, cuya incisión ha permitido una conexión hidráulica directa con el acuífero del Plio-Pleistoceno que subyace a las arcillas superficiales. Los ciclos estacionales de recarga y descarga, incluido el inicio de la época seca de riego alimentado por aguas subterráneas, se caracterizan por los registros de observación compilados. El agotamiento de las aguas subterráneas, evidente por la disminución de los niveles de las aguas subterráneas con una estacionalidad reducida, es pronunciado en los ambientes del Plio-Pleistoceno en los que la recarga directa se inhibe por las arcillas superficiales. En cambio, la extracción intensiva de aguas subterráneas poco profundas en los medios del Holoceno puede mejorar la recarga directa e indirecta mediante una geología de superficie más permeable. Las contribuciones fundamentales de la recarga indirecta de las aguas subterráneas poco profundas identificadas en ambos ambientes de sedimentación en la Cuenca de Bengala ponen de relieve la limitación crítica de utilizar modelos que excluyan este proceso en la estimación de la recarga de las aguas subterráneas en los megadeltas asiáticos.

摘要

在亚洲巨型三角洲中地下水被大量开发利用,但对于这些三角洲系统中地下水补给的过程仍知之较少。通过全新世可渗透的表层沉积物和上新世的阶地沉积物的两个截然不同的环境背景下每小时监测的地下水位和降水量获得认识,以及孟加拉盆地地下水位,河流水位和来自该地区的降雨的长期和低频记录,建立了这两种沉积环境中补给过程的概念模型。通过对地下水位时间序列数据的统计聚类分析,探讨了孟加拉国整个孟加拉盆地这些概念模型的代表性。观测记录表明,全新世沉积物同时发生了分散的和集中的补给过程,而上新世沉积物中的补给则主要来自河道的间接渗漏,其中河道与含水层的切口得河道与下层新世含水层之间的直接水力联系成为可能。汇编的观测记录很好地描述了补给和排泄的季节性周期,包括在旱季开始地下水灌溉。在上新世环境中,当地下水位季节性下降时,由于表层黏土抑制了直接补给,地下水被显著消耗。相反,全新世环境中密集的浅层地下水开采可以通过更具渗透性的地表地质来增强直接和间接补给。在孟加拉盆地的两个沉积环境中浅层地下水的间接补给的重要贡献表明了在亚洲巨型三角洲地下水补给估算中忽略该过程的模型的主要不足。

Resumo

A água subterrânea é usada intensivamente nos mega-deltas asiáticos, mas os processos pelos quais a água subterrânea é recarregada nesses sistemas deltaicos ainda são mal compreendidos. Um panorama do monitoramento horário dos níveis de água subterrânea e precipitação em dois ambientes contrastantes, compreendendo depósitos superficiais permeáveis da idade do Holoceno e depósitos do terraço Plio-Pleistoceno, juntamente com registros de menor frequência de longo prazo dos níveis de água subterrânea, nível do rio e precipitação na Bacia de Bengala, bem como modelos conceituais de processos de recarga nesses dois ambientes deposicionais foram desenvolvidos. A representatividade desses modelos conceituais em toda a Bacia de Bengala, em Bangladesh, é explorada por meio de análise estatística de agrupamento de dados de séries temporais de águas subterrâneas. Registros observacionais revelam que processos de recarga difusos e pontuais ocorrem em depósitos do Holoceno, enquanto a recarga em depósitos do Plio-Pleistoceno é dominada por regulação indireto dos canais dos rios, onde a incisão permitiu uma conexão hidráulica direta entre os canais dos rios e o aquífero Plio-Pleistoceno subjacente às argilas superficiais. Os ciclos sazonais de recarga e descarga, incluindo o início da irrigação com água subterrânea na estação seca, são bem caracterizados por registros observacionais compilados. O rebaixamento das águas subterrâneas, evidenciado a partir do declínio dos níveis das águas subterrâneas com uma sazonalidade diminuída, é pronunciado em ambientes Plio-Pleistoceno onde a recarga direta é inibida pelas argilas superficiais. Em contraste, a abstração intensiva de águas subterrâneas rasas em ambientes do Holoceno pode aumentar a recarga direta e indireta por meio de uma geologia de superfície mais permeável. As contribuições vitais da recarga indireta de águas subterrâneas rasas identificadas em ambos os ambientes deposicionais na Bacia de Bengala destacam a limitação crítica do uso de modelos que excluem este processo na estimativa da recarga de águas subterrâneas em mega-deltas asiáticos.

Introduction

Thick sequences of unconsolidated sediments occur in ‘mega-deltas’ throughout Asia and comprise the termini of major drainage basins that include the rivers Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM), Indus, Irrawaddy, Chao Phraya, Mekong, Red (Song Hong), Pearl (Zhujiang), Yangtze (Chiangjiang) and Yellow (Huanghe; Fig. 1). Coarser sediments within Quaternary fluvial, alluvial, and estuarine sequences form productive aquifers from which shallow groundwater is drawn intensely for dry-season irrigation (Alauddin and Quiggin 2008; Shamsudduha et al. 2011, 2012) as well as rural and urban domestic water supplies (Ravenscroft et al. 2005; Zahid and Ahmed 2006; Hoque et al. 2007; Naik et al. 2008; Hardoy et al. 2013). The sustainability of groundwater withdrawals and the processes by which groundwater is replenished in Asian mega-deltas, remain inadequately resolved. This knowledge gap constrains not only the modelling of groundwater recharge in response to global change but also our understanding of the vulnerability of shallow groundwater resources to contamination (e.g., Fendorf et al. 2010; Burgess et al. 2011; van Geen et al. 2013) and depletion (e.g., Shamsudduha et al. 2009, 2012; Bui et al. 2012).

Fig. 1
figure 1

a General locations of the Asian mega-deltas including the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) or Bengal Basin, shown on a shaded relief map, with major rivers shown as blue lines and international political boundaries indicated as black lines; b locations of high-frequency monitoring sites (Buapur, Savar) shown on a simplified physiological map of Bangladesh with major surficial geological units: Holocene and Plio-Pleistocene. A-B-C is a transect line for which a subsurface geological map is shown (c), and major rivers are shown as blue lines and blue polylines; c a simplified hydrogeological cross-section along the A-B-C transect (b) showing the Holocene (gray) and Plio-Pleistocene (brown) sedimentary deposits (Ravenscroft and Rahman 2003) and the major physiographic features (e.g. Brahmaputra floodplains, Madhupur Tract) along the transect line

There remains a surprising dearth of studies examining the processes of groundwater recharge in Asian mega-deltas and deltaic environments more widely (Sawyer et al. 2015). Diffuse recharge resulting from the direct infiltration of rainfall at the land surface is commonly assumed in humid environments (de Vries and Simmers 2002; Healy and Scanlon 2010). Focused recharge resulting by way of leakage from surface-water bodies including ponds and ephemeral or perennial rivers is often considered to be the dominant process of groundwater recharge in drylands (Scanlon et al. 2006; Cuthbert et al. 2019). It has, however, also been traced to occur in the humid GBM delta around Dhaka City using Cl:Br ratios (Hoque et al. 2014), urban pollutants (Burgess et al. 2011), and stable isotope ratios of O and H (Darling et al. 2002). Exchanges between groundwater and surface water in deltaic environments have also been observed in response to hydrologic events including hurricanes in the lower Mississippi Delta (Li and Tsai 2020) and monsoonal flooding in the Okavango Delta (Wolski and Savenije 2006) and lower Amazon floodplain (Rudorff et al. 2014).

Substantial uncertainty remains, however, in the proportions of groundwater recharge in the GBM delta arising from diffuse and focused recharge pathways, and what factors control these processes. In distal areas of the GBM delta, seasonal oscillations in deep (>150 m below ground level, bgl) wells are attributed to the impact of seasonal surface water, and soil-water loading and unloading on groundwater levels rather than groundwater recharge and discharge (Burgess et al. 2017). Indeed, more recent work in distal areas of the GBM delta (Woodman et al. 2019) suggests that such poroelastic responses could explain seasonal groundwater-level oscillations at depths as shallow as 30 m bgl.

Hydrological impact of developing shallow groundwater

Bengal Basin within the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) delta system, also known as the Bengal Mega-delta in Bangladesh and West Bengal (India), is the largest of the Asian mega-deltas covering an area of more than 100,000 km2—Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) 2001; Akter et al. 2016). Sedimentary sequences of Quaternary sands, silts, and clays are several kilometres thick (Ravenscroft et al. 2005). In Bangladesh, historic dependence upon surface waters switched to groundwater in the early 1980s with a rapid expansion in the use of shallow groundwater (<150 m bgl) through water wells (i.e., tubewells) to expand access to safe water and enable dry-season irrigation to improve food security. By 2007–2008, almost 80% of all water used in irrigation was supplied by groundwater of which about 80% is derived from shallow tubewells and 20% from deep (>150–300 mbgl) tubewells (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 2012).

The dramatic increase in shallow groundwater withdrawals in the Bengal Mega-delta has greatly influenced seasonal oscillations in groundwater levels and amplified previously low vertical hydraulic gradients that had persisted for millennia (Goodbred and Kuehl 2000; DPHE 2001). Where surface geologies are permeable, dry-season groundwater abstraction for irrigation has been observed to induce greater recharge during the subsequent monsoon (Shamsudduha et al. 2011, 2015) through increased capture of surface-water flows (i.e. focused recharge) in a manner previously described as the “Ganges Water Machine” (Revelle and Lakshminarayana 1975) and increased vertical hydraulic gradients amplifying diffuse recharge. In contrast, where surface geologies are comparatively impermeable, intensive groundwater withdrawals are causing a net depletion in groundwater storage, which was recently estimated to be ~1 km3 year−1 in Bangladesh (Shamsudduha et al. 2012).

Quantification of recharge in the Bengal Basin

The quantification of groundwater recharge in the Bengal Basin has, to date, relied upon tools or models that assume recharge derives solely from the direct infiltration of rainfall—e.g., United Nations Development Programme (UNDP 1982); Master Plan Organization (MPO 1987). Indeed, the estimation of potential recharge using a lumped-parameter, soil-water balance model (MPO 1987) has been deemed conceptually appropriate (Saleh and Nishat 1989) and later revised by Water Resources Planning Organisation (2000a). Master Plan Organisation (1987) considered ‘usable recharge’ simply to be 75% of the ‘potential recharge’. Quantified recharge via this approach has, however, been shown to differ substantially from observed recharge in Bangladesh computed using the water-table fluctuation method (Shamsudduha et al. 2011). This latter analysis, which is independent of recharge pathways or processes, estimates an average net groundwater recharge to be ~150 mm year−1 (σ = 140 mm year−1) for the period of 1985–2007 (Shamsudduha et al. 2011). Despite suggestions from previous studies that focused recharge can be an important recharge pathway in the Bengal Basin (DPHE 2001; Ravenscroft and Rahman 2003; Zahid et al. 2008; Burgess et al. 2011), locally developed recharge estimation tools and hydrological models (Kirby et al. 2013, 2015; Ahmad et al. 2014) as well as large-scale models such as PCRaster GLOBal Water Balance model (Wada et al. 2010), are restricted to the estimation of diffuse recharge that results solely from the direct infiltration of precipitation at the soil surface.

This paper explores fundamental questions about the nature of monsoonal recharge in a mega-delta environment: What are the dominant processes by which recharge occurs? How do these processes vary under different depositional environments and soil lithologies? How has intensive groundwater withdrawals influenced recharge dynamics? This exploratory research exploits hydrometric evidence as the Bengal Mega-delta of Bangladesh (~100,000 km2) that features networks of dedicated monitoring stations for daily rainfall (~300), weekly groundwater-levels (~1,200), and subdaily to daily river stage (~300); groundwater-level records, managed by the government’s agency, Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), have been collected since early 1970s. Here, rare hourly in-situ measurements of colocated groundwater-level and rainfall records are examined together with a much larger body of lower-frequency (daily to weekly) measurements of rainfall, surface water, and groundwater levels. The latter involves regionalizing hydrologic phenomena through a cluster exercise that distinguishes physical patterns in groundwater time-series hydrographs. In-situ analyses build upon a limited number of past studies employing short-term but high-frequency groundwater-level records from localised observations at two locations in Bangladesh (Harvey et al. 2006; Stute et al. 2007; Aziz et al. 2008; Burgess et al. 2017).

Study area and methodology

Shallow groundwater regimes of the Bengal Basin

The surficial geology of Bangladesh (Fig. 1) is primarily characterised by Holocene unconsolidated sediments that cover ~80% of the land surface. The remainder comprise pre-Holocene sediments that occur primarily in terraces as well as hills located in the eastern part of Bangladesh (Fig. 1). Plio-Pleistocene terrace deposits, located in northwest (Barind Tract) and north-central (Madhupur Tract) Bangladesh (Alam et al. 1990; Reimann 1993), occupy 8% of the nation’s land surface and feature annual groundwater withdrawals of ~9.7 km3, which is ~30% of the total groundwater withdrawals (32 km3) estimated for Bangladesh (Shamsudduha et al. 2019). Both Quaternary deposits consist of sands, silts, and clays that form aquifers throughout the basin. Groundwater generally occurs at shallow depth (<10 m bgl) over most of Bangladesh within Holocene alluviums, alluvial fan deposits, floodplains, and delta plains but at comparatively deeper depths (>10 m bgl) in Plio–Pleistocene fluvio-deltaic sediments of the Madhupur and Barind Tracts in the Bengal Aquifer System (Ahmed et al. 2004; Shamsudduha et al. 2011). These two primary hydrogeological regimes or typologies, namely the Holocene and Plio-Pleistocene, feature surficial covers with contrasting permeabilities, relatively higher and lower, respectively. Holocene aquifers are commonly unconfined or semiconfined with higher transmissivity (2,000–5,000 m2 day−1), whereas Plio-Pleistocene aquifers are confined to semiconfined with lower transmissivity (300–3,000 m2 day−1) (DPHE 2001; Ravenscroft and Rahman 2003). Plio-Pleistocene aquifers typically occur below a clay unit, stratigraphically known as the Madhupur Clay Formation (Fig. 1c), that varies in thickness from ~8 to 45 m; the underlying aquifer is known as Dupi Tila (Ravenscroft et al. 2005; Shamsudduha and Uddin 2007). It is noteworthy that lithologies within Holocene sediments are highly variable both in horizontal and vertical directions producing localised (from several hundred metres up to tens of kilometres), highly heterogeneous aquifers at very shallow depths (<50 m bgl) throughout Bangladesh (DPHE 2001).

Sites of high-frequency (hourly) monitoring

High-frequency monitoring sites were established in central Bangladesh (Fig. 1b) as weekly groundwater-level observations are unable to represent diurnal processes and signals including pumping regimes, atmospheric/tidal effects, and evapotranspiration (Acworth et al. 2015). Monitoring stations were constructed in two contrasting surface-geological units: (1) the first site (latitude: 24.468° N and longitude: 89.875° E) in Bhuapur Upazila (subdistrict) of Tangail District located in the Holocene deposits (Fig. 2a), hereafter referred to as Bhuapur, and (2) the second site (latitude: 23.879° N and longitude: 90.274° E) in Savar Upazila (subdistrict) of Dhaka District located in the Plio-Pleistocene deposits (Fig. 2b), hereafter referred to as Savar. Bhuapur is located in a rural setting where the landscape is dominated by irrigated agricultural lands with a few rural settlements. Savar is proximate to Dhaka (20 km) and the periurban town of Savar (4 km). The landscape surrounding Savar is dominated by manufacturing industries, garment factories, business facilities, and settlements. At Bhuapur, groundwater is predominantly used for dry-season rice cultivation, and domestic use, and supplied respectively through shallow irrigation pumps and hand-operated tubewells. Boro (dry-season: December to April) and transplanted Aman (wet-season: July to November) rice are produced in >80% of the total cultivable land in Bhuapur Upazila. In contrast, groundwater in and around the site at Savar is also widely used for industrial, municipal, and domestic water supplies throughout the year.

Fig. 2
figure 2

a General hydrology and surficial geological features of Bhuapur study site and b Savar study site. Maps also show the location of high-resolution (red and blue circles) and long-term (red and blue triangles) groundwater-level, river-stage monitoring sites (yellow stars), and daily rainfall stations (purple crosses)

Rainfall monitoring stations of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) are located at distances of 15 km (BMD Headquarters in Dhaka) and 25 km (BMD Station in Tangail Town) from Savar and Bhuapur, respectively (Fig. 2). Summary statistics of long-term hydro-meteorological observations (i.e. groundwater levels, river-levels, rainfall) are presented in Table 1 and provide a broad hydrogeological context for high-frequency records collected in Bhuapur and Savar over a period of two hydrological years (2009–2011). In addition, lithological logs recorded during monitoring-well (i.e. borehole) installation—see Fig. S1 in the electronic supplementary material (ESM)—illustrate the contrasting hydrogeological conditions at these two sites. At Bhuapur, located within Holocene deposits, groundwater levels are commonly shallow (<5 m bgl), whereas at Savar, groundwater levels within the Plio-Pleistocene deposits are typically deeper (>10 m bgl) and overlain by a thick clay layer (i.e. Madhupur Clay Formation).

Table 1 Summary statistics of BWDB (Bangladesh Water Development Board) groundwater levels, BIWTA (Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority) and BWDB surface-water levels and BMD (Bangladesh Meteorological Department) rainfall records from Bhuapur and Savar monitoring locations representing the Holocene and Plio-Pleistocene hydrogeological typologies. Here, mean, trend, and standard deviation (SD) of the annual mean records were calculated for the data period of 1987–2014

At Bhuapur, the surficial geology comprises mainly Young and Old Brahmaputra Floodplain deposits according to the National Geological Map of Bangladesh (Alam et al. 1990). The Brahmaputra floodplain sediments feature a complex relief of broad and narrow ridges, interridge depressions, partially filled cut-off channels, and localised depressions. Bhuapur is covered by permeable silt loam to silty-clay loam soils on ridges and impermeable clays at low-land depressions. Soils predominantly comprise grey (unoxidised) floodplain soils with a generally thin and permeable surficial silt and clay unit (Water Resources Planning Organisation 2000a). At Bhuapur, near-surface lithology is predominantly light-brown sand with some silt having a thickness of ~3 m (Fig. S1a of the ESM). Below the surficial sand layer there is a thin (<1 m) silty-clay layer and the shallow aquifer occurs just below that layer. The shallow aquifer comprises medium gray sand with little fine sand. Shallow groundwater at Bhuapur is generally unconfined with dry-season groundwater levels occurring at <8 m bgl and wet-season levels at ~1 m bgl; the screen depth interval is 15–18 m bgl.

The site in Savar is located on the southern side of the Madhupur Tract, which is slightly more elevated than the surrounding floodplains and less prone to seasonal flooding. The main soil type of the Madhupur Tract is red-brown coloured lateritic terrace soil rich in clay (Fig. S1b of the ESM). Consequently, the vertical hydraulic conductivity of the Madhupur Clay is low, ranging from ~10−3 to 10−2 m day−1 (Michael and Voss 2009; Hassan and Zahid 2011); direct rain-fed recharge to the underlying aquifer (i.e. Dupi Tila sand) is restricted. The National Hydrochemical Survey of Bangladesh (DPHE 2001) developed a conceptual model of recharge pathways to Plio-Pleistocene aquifers based on lithological logs that suggests that recharge can occur indirectly where incised antecedent drainage channels have eroded near-surface clays. At the monitoring site, the thickness of the surficial silty-clay deposits is ~12 m (Fig. S1b of the ESM); the screen depth interval is 17 to 20 m bgl. Although dry-season Boro rice is cultivated in Savar Upazila, there is no groundwater-fed irrigation for dry-season Boro rice specifically at the monitoring site. However, groundwater is withdrawn at nearby factories and for irrigating grass at the Central Cattle Breeding and Dairy Farm. Groundwater levels in the BWDB monitoring boreholes near the Savar site are relatively deep, 10–12 m bgl during the dry-season and 5–8 m bgl during the wet season.

Hydrometric observations

High-frequency observations of groundwater levels and rainfall were established in 2009. Both sites were equipped with automatic data loggers that include a groundwater-level logger (Solinst Gold LT M30 at Bhuapur and LT M100 at Savar), a barometric-level logger (Solinst Gold Baro-logger M1.5), and an automated logger (AR-DT2) installed with a tipping-bucket rain-gauge (ARG100); rain-loggers at both sites failed in June 2010. Half-hourly groundwater-level data for the period of February 2009 to April 2011 were recorded at both Bhuapur and Savar and converted to hourly data. Proximate to both locations, daily rainfall records for the period of 1987 to 2014 were collated from two BMD stations (Tangail and Dhaka) along with hourly surface-water level (SWL) records from a Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) gauging station in Bhuapur (BIWTA-2730). Additionally, daily records from three BWDB river-gauging stations (SW342 on River Jhenai near Bhuapur; SW14.5 on River Bangshi and SW69 on River Dhaleshwari, the most proximate gauges to Savar) and weekly time-series records (1987 to 2014) at four BWDB boreholes (TA013, TA014, DH073, and DH115) were collated to investigate long-term trends and seasonality and to compare to high-frequency observations (Fig. S2 of the ESM) at both monitoring stations.

Fourier frequency analysis in R environment platform (R Core Team 2016) was conducted on the high-resolution records of barometric pressure, groundwater levels, and river-stage levels in order to identify any dominant signals in the time-series data. Commonly used extreme rainfall indices used in Bangladesh by several authors (Islam et al. 2008; Nowreen et al. 2015) were computed by using R package called ‘Rclimdex’ (Zhang and Yang 2004).

Atmospheric or barometric pressure (Patm) was removed from measured total pressure (Ptot) by level-loggers in order to derive observed water levels (Wobs = PtotPatm) in monitoring boreholes. Despite heavy influence of pumping on groundwater-level observations at both sites, barometric efficiency (BE) was calculated from the slope of a linear trend line fitted through changes in measured water levels (∆Wobs) and changes in concurrent atmospheric pressure (∆Patm) over the same period of time (Burgess et al. 2017). BE is used here simply as an indicator of aquifer conditions (e.g., unconfined versus confined) and to consider potential poroelastic responses in measured groundwater levels.

Statistical clustering of national groundwater-level observations

The representivity of observations at Bhuapur and Savar was explored using evidence from a cluster analysis of groundwater-level records across the Bengal Basin in Bangladesh. These national-scale datasets were thoroughly checked for spurious records; all statistical analyses were conducted in R programming language platform (R Core Team 2016). Initially, quality assured longer records of 786 monitored wells were picked out of a total of 1265 wells monitored by the BWDB. Station records with less than 10% missing values were selected for cluster analyses where no well record had two consecutive missing years. This process resulted in a time series (1994–2013) of 464 stations available for analysis.

Statistical clustering is an unsupervised machine-learning method for partitioning datasets into a set of groups or “clusters”. Unlike feature-based groupings of groundwater-level times series (e.g., Vernieuwe et al. 2007; Bloomfield et al. 2015), this study applies instance-based time series groupings that characterise the amplitude of trends and fluctuations in groundwater-level times series. Clustering algorithms can be broadly classified into non hierarchical (partitioning method) k-means and hierarchical (i.e. agglomerative or divisive) methods. The k-means clustering procedure splits a set of objects into a selected number of groups by maximizing between-cluster variation and minimizing within-cluster variation. This method is efficient for large datasets. In hierarchical clustering, initially, each object (i.e., case or variable) is considered as a separate cluster. Clusters are combined based on their “closeness” using one of many possible definitions until all objects are combined into one single cluster. Here, ‘closeness’ was computed using linkage methods in the NbClust package of R platform as described by Charrad et al. (2014). Finally, three variables—groundwater abstraction, lithology of the soil (i.e., upper silt-clay thickness), and local elevation represented by inundation land types (i.e., flood phases as described in Brammer 1988)—are considered collectively to present a process-based description of the clusters. Three ranges (low, moderate, high) for these variables were considered in the interpretation of clusters.

Results

Long-term groundwater-level hydrographs in Bhuapur and Savar

Weekly time-series (1987–2014) records illustrate long-term patterns in BWDB groundwater-level (GWL) fluctuations at Bhuapur and Savar (Fig. 3); details of these BWDB monitoring boreholes are provided in Table 1 and Fig. S1 of the ESM. Two hydrographs (TA013 and TA014) within Holocene deposits in Bhuapur show no discernible change in seasonality and trend in long-term mean GWL fluctuations (Fig. 3a). Both hydrographs reveal interannual variations with some years being wetter (e.g., 1998, 2007) or drier (e.g., 1994, 2006, 2012) compared to mean GWL fluctuations. Median (1987–2014) annual GWL fluctuations (difference between annual minima and maxima) in Bhuapur and Savar are ~5.5 and ~5.0 m, respectively. Weekly monitored GWLs (TA013 and TA014) and hourly (BIWTA-2730) river levels at Bhuapur show fluctuations of similar magnitude throughout the period of monitoring.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Line plots showing groundwater-level (GWL) and surface-water level (SWL) anomalies with respect to the long-term mean (1987 to 2014) for weekly groundwater levels and river-stage records, and bar plots showing annual total rainfall over the same period, for ab Bhuapur and cd Savar. Note different vertical scales in plots (a and c)

At Savar, two hydrographs (DH073 and DH115), located within the Pleistocene Madhupur Tract, show a dynamic temporal response over nearly three decades (1987–2014; Fig. 3c). GWLs at both sites were dominated by strong seasonality until early 2004–2005 when GWLs in borehole DH115 start to decline with progressively reduced seasonality; a decline in GWLs at borehole DH073 occurred later (since 2009–2010) and more gradually. Mean annual GWL fluctuations in DH073 and DH115 from 1990 to 2000 are ~4.5 and ~7.0 m, respectively. The deeper borehole, DH115 (screen depth 57 m bgl), shows greater annual fluctuations until 2002–2003 than DH073, which is screened at a shallower depth (~33 m bgl).

Mean monthly records in Fig. 4 depict seasonal regimes in GWLs, rainfall, and river stage (SWLs) at Bhuapur and Savar. At both Bhuapur and Savar, GWLs are lowest in March–April at the end of dry-season during Boro rice cultivation, when seasonal rainfall is low (~100 mm month−1), whereas GWLs rise rapidly in May and June, reaching peak levels in July (TA014) and August (TA013) at Bhuapur, and in September (DH115) and October (DH073) at Savar. SWLs rise earlier and reach peak stages in July at Bhuapur and August at Savar, suggesting an approximate 1 month lag between peak GWLs and SWLs in both areas.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Line plots showing deviations from long-term (1987–2014) mean for seasonal (monthly) fluctuations in weekly groundwater levels and daily and subdaily river-stage records, and bar plots showing monthly total rainfall aggregated over the same period, in ab Bhuapur and cd Savar

High-frequency groundwater-level hydrographs

Water-level dynamics in Holocene deposits: Bhuapur

Hourly monitoring of shallow GWLs at Bhuapur covers two complete annual cycles (February 2009 to April 2011), showing GWL responses to heavy rainfall events and large SWL fluctuations (Fig. 5). An analysis of daily rainfall records (1987–2014) from a BMD station (Tangail Town) near Bhuapur reveals that the 95th percentile and 50th percentile of 1-day maximum rainfall vary from 222 to 120 mm day−1 respectively (Table S1 of the ESM). During field monitoring from 2009 to 2011, extreme daily rainfall was not observed possibly because of gaps in the record; the highest recorded rainfall was 54 mm on 22 September 2009 and 6 June 2010. Nevertheless, GWLs responded to heavy rainfall events exceeding the Simple Day Intensity Index (SDII; Frich et al. 2002) of 17 mm day−1 as shown in Fig. S3 of the ESM. These individual, daily responses are partially masked during the monsoon period by the seasonal rise in GWLs. It is noteworthy that variations in peak GWLs approximately coincide with peak river stages in the adjoining River Brahmaputra (Fig. 5a). High-frequency monitoring of individual peaks in SWLs (BIWTA-2730) and GWLs over the monsoon season reveals, however, that these are not synchronous (Fig. 5) but feature lags of 0.5–7.5 days.

Fig. 5
figure 5

a Bhuapur high-resolution (half-hourly) field observations of normalized (i.e. subtracting the mean) groundwater levels (red) and hourly surface-water levels (black) in River Brahmaputra; b daily (i.e. sum of half-hourly records over 24 h) rainfall observations (blue) and daily rainfall (pink) from nearby BMD (Bangladesh Meteorological Department) station located at 25 km away from Bhuapur to fill in gaps in field monitoring records; c hourly fluctuations in groundwater levels, calculated by subtracting a 1-h moving average from the observational records. The inset on the top panel (d) is shown in Fig. S4 of the ESM

Following the end of the monsoon in October, river stage (BIWTA-2730) initially recedes more rapidly than the GWL at Bhuapur. A sharp increase in the GWL recession occurs at the end of the year (December) and is associated with a rise in diurnal GWL oscillations that continue until the start of the following monsoon (Fig. S4 of the ESM). Fourier frequency analysis identifies responses to four atmospheric signals (Fig. S5 of the ESM): (1) once daily (~24 hourly) S1 or solar diurnal, (2) twice daily (~12 hourly) S2 or solar semidiurnal, (3) thrice daily (~8 hourly) S3 or solar terdiurnal, and (4) S4 or solar quarter-diurnal. Of note is the contrast between the higher amplitude S2 signal in barometric pressure relative to the hydrostatic pressure. The computed BE applying the linear regression between standardised hydrostatic and barometric pressure (Burgess et al. 2017) at Bhuapur ranges from 13 to 32% (Fig. S6 of the ESM). Frequency analysis of surface-water levels in rivers Brahmaputra and Futikjani reveals no discernible dominant frequencies at repeated intervals (Fig. S7 of the ESM). Groundwater recharge estimated using a water-table fluctuation method that does not consider drainage (groundwater-level recessions) is 485 mm in 2009 and 540 mm in 2010, based on high-frequency observations, and 568 mm (σ = 82 mm year−1) and 589 mm (σ = 85 mm year−1) based on lower-frequency observations over period of 1987–2014 at sites TA013 and TA014 (Fig. 3a), respectively.

Water-level dynamics in Plio-Pleistocene deposits: Savar

At Savar, hourly monitoring (February 2009 to April 2011) within the Plio-Pleistocene environment reveals diurnal to seasonal fluctuation patterns in GWLs (Fig. 6). The amplitude of seasonal groundwater levels at Savar during the monsoon decreases in 2010 (0.8 m), relative to 2009 (1.5 m); this decline occurs alongside an overall fall in groundwater levels of ~2 (~1 m year–1). Of note is that GWLs at Savar do not respond to extreme rainfalls. Standardised GWLs in Fig. 6e (and Fig. S8 of the ESM) show no response in the piezometric level to an extreme rainfall event with a peak intensity of ~90 mm h−1 (day total of ~320 mm) that occurred on the 28th of July in 2009. On the same day in Dhaka, a rainfall event of 333 mm was recorded and is the second highest one-day rainfall in the past 60 years period (Ahammed et al. 2014). Fourier frequency analysis of groundwater levels reveals responses to primarily three atmospheric signals (Fig. S9 of the ESM): S1, S2, and S3; S4 is detectable but weak. In contrast to Bhuapur, the amplitudes of the solar signals in hydrostatic pressure at Savar vary from wet to dry season and curiously exceed barometric pressure during the dry-season. The computed BE at Savar (Fig. S10 of the ESM) is substantially higher than Bhuapur and ranges from 64 to 81%.

Fig. 6
figure 6

a Savar high-resolution (half-hourly) field observations of normalized (i.e. subtracting the mean) groundwater levels (red) and hourly surface-water levels (black) in River Dhaleswari; b daily (i.e. sum of half-hourly records over 24 h) rainfall observations (blue) and daily rainfall (pink) from nearby BMD (Bangladesh Meteorological Department) station located at 15 km away from Savar to fill in gaps in field monitoring records; c hourly fluctuations in groundwater levels, calculated by subtracting a 1-h moving average from the observational records. The inset on the top panel (d) is shown in Fig. S10 of the ESM, e highlights an extreme rainfall event

Surface-water levels in the nearest rivers (River Dhaleshwari, BWDB station number SW69; River Bangshi, BWDB station number SW14.5) shown in Fig. 2bb are influenced by tides, particularly during the dry-season low-flow condition (Fig. S11 of the ESM). Specifically, 14.76 daily cycles correspond to a lunisolar synodic fortnightly (Msf) signal that is associated with spring and neap tides for both rivers. Standardised GWLs (i.e. zero mean head oscillations) in Fig. 6c do not show any significant variations over the seasons or years. There are few episodic spikes in piezometric levels but their origin remains unclear. Groundwater recharge estimated using a water-table fluctuation method (as previously discussed at Bhuapur) is 44 mm in 2009 and 34 mm in 2010, based on high-frequency observations, and 179 mm (σ = 35 mm year−1) and 229 mm (σ = 38 mm year−1) based on lower-frequency observations over the period of 1987 to 2004 at sites DH073 and DH115 (Fig. 3c), respectively.

National-scale representivity of hydrographs at Bhuapur and Savar

The representivity of GWL regimes observed at Bhuapur and Savar was evaluated across the Bengal Basin of Bangladesh using a hierarchical cluster analysis of 464 time series records of weekly groundwater levels between 1994 and 2013. The results of the finalised hierarchical clustering are displayed in Fig. S12 of the ESM in the form of a dendrogram using Canberra distance as the measure of dissimilarity and Ward.D2 method as the primary clustering algorithm with the cluster numbers fitted at k = 5 (Fig. S13 of the ESM). For each of the five clusters identified in the Bengal Basin of Bangladesh, groundwater-level time series are plotted against the long-term (1994–2013) mean in Fig. S14 of the ESM. Table 2 reports the average of the time-series records for each group and their corresponding statistics.

Table 2 Summary statistics of the time series of each cluster for the period of 1994 to 2013. Here dry-period and wet-period trends show annual changes of 5th percentile and 95th percentile of groundwater level time series of each of the said clusters, respectively

The characteristics of each cluster are outlined in the following. Cluster 1 (CL1) is characterised by strong seasonal fluctuations in GWLs that increase in their amplitude with a very slight decline in the mean (Fig. S14 of the ESM); this cluster includes monitoring well TA014 in Bhuapur and represents 34% (165 wells) of national subset of monitoring wells (Fig. S15a of the ESM). Cluster 2 (CL2) also shows strong seasonality but without a noticeable increase in their amplitude as observed in CL1; a slight decline in GWLs occurs similar to CL1. Cluster 3 (CL3) demonstrates diminishing seasonality and much greater declining trends relative to the other four clusters. This cluster includes DH115 of Savar and represents 12% (60 wells) of the subset of national monitoring boreholes (Fig. S15a of the ESM). Cluster 4 (CL4) shows a somewhat suppressed seasonality, though much less than CL3, with moderate declining trends in both wet and dry seasons. Cluster 5 (CL5) is similar to CL1 showing slightly declining trends but with a slight dampening of seasonality relative to CL1. Notably, Cluster 5 exhibits high annual fluctuations throughout the time series compared to other clusters.

Discussion

Groundwater recharge in Holocene sedimentary environments

The annual hydrograph at Bhuapur (Fig. 5a) can be broadly dissected into three distinctive phases: (1) during May to September, GWL rise indicates recharge in excess of discharge during the monsoon; (2) during September to early November, GWL declines as groundwater discharge, which occurs naturally to surface-water bodies (i.e. streams, canals, wetlands), via evapotranspiration by phreatophytic plants and as a result of sporadic pumping for supplemental irrigation around the Aman harvesting period (late November–late December), exceeds recharge following the monsoon; and (3) during late November to early May, a sharp change in the recessionary trend in the hydrographs following the onset of groundwater abstraction for dry-season Boro rice cultivation. During this third stage at Bhuapur, the amplitude of diurnal hydraulic head oscillations increases at the onset of irrigation pumping (on/off) cycles for Boro rice cultivation from mid-January to mid-May (Fig. S4 of the ESM) and has similarly been observed by Harvey et al. (2006). During the peak of the irrigation season (March/April) in 2012–2013, field surveys recorded 2638 shallow (35–55 m) pumping tubewells and 18 deep (90–150 m) tubewells operating in Bhuapur Upazila.

High-frequency GWL observations at Bhuapur show responses to observed heavy rainfall events (Fig. S3 of the ESM) that are consistent with the occurrence of direct recharge; the possibility that these piezometric responses stem from poroelastic deformation is challenged by the very shallow depth of groundwater (mean depth to groundwater was 6.25 m from 2009 to 2011) and absence of compressible sediments within the shallow surface geology comprising light brown sand (Fig. S1a of the ESM). Fourier analysis of high-frequency GWL observations at Bhuapur indicates that the amplitude of the solar atmospheric signal S2 exceeds that of other solar signals (S1, S3, S4) as predicted theoretically (Acworth et al. 2015). The muted response in hydrostatic pressure at Bhuapur (Fig. S5 of the ESM), relative to Savar (Fig. S9 of the ESM), is expected from the low computed BE (13–32%), consistent with unconfined aquifer conditions suggested from lithological logs (Fig. S1 of the ESM).

Time lags are evident between monsoonal peaks in SWLs and GWLs (Fig. 5). The Pearson correlation coefficient between hourly GWL and SWL (BIWTA-2730) at Bhuapur from 2009 to 2011 improves from 0.65 to 0.86 with the incorporation of a time lag of 46 days. Using the long-term (1987–2014) weekly time series data of GWLs (TA014) and SWLs (BIWTA-2730), the correlation improves from 0.87 to 0.91 with a time lag of 2 weeks. Further, the hydraulic gradient is from the river to the groundwater during the monsoon (Fig. S16 of the ESM) but then reverses during the dry season. Overall, the monitoring evidence indicates a strong coupling of GWLs and SWLs in which groundwater recharge can occur not only directly (i.e. diffuse recharge) but also indirectly via leakage from adjacent surface waters. Closely corresponding but lagged individual peaks in SWLs and GWLs during the monsoon (June to October) have been described as “lateral pressure pulses” elsewhere in the Bengal Basin and attributed to recharge (Stute et al. 2007) yet may alternatively comprise poroelastic responses as suggested by recent modelling (Woodman et al. 2019). The conclusion of strong coupling between SWLs and GWLs is consistent with Ravenscroft and Rahman 2003) who assert that stream-bed sediments of the River Brahmaputra are hydraulically connected to adjacent shallow aquifers.

The GWL regime observed at Bhuapur and represented by monitoring well TA014 (Fig. 5a), occurs within Holocene sediments (Fig. S15a of the ESM) and is characterised by CL1. The increasing amplitude of seasonal fluctuations that defines this cluster is consistent with the observation of increasing seasonal groundwater abstraction replenished by recharge, be it diffuse and/or focused (Fig. 7a). Such dynamics have similarly been noted in Bangladesh by Shamsudduha et al. (2009, 2011) and illustrate the Ganges Water Machine originally proposed by Revelle and Lakshminarayana (1975); the steady increase in seasonality for CL1 does not reflect mass loading observed in coastal areas (Burgess et al. 2017). Manual inspection of 55 hydrographs belonging to CL1 (33% of total) prior to the 1994 indicates amplification of seasonal oscillations associated with pumping which occurred as early as the late 1980s.

Fig. 7
figure 7

Conceptual diagrams summarizing shallow groundwater recharge processes in the a Holocene and b Plio-Pleistocene environments in the Bengal Basin of Bangladesh; blue and red horizontal lines indicate general position of groundwater levels during the monsoon and dry seasons, respectively. Note that the lithological logs from Bhuapur and Savar provide a legend for the employed shading in the adjacent block diagrams

Monitoring-well hydrographs in CL1 are largely absent from the coastal zone and show a bias to areas where upper silty-clay thickness is low (Fig. S15 of the ESM) facilitating direct recharge. No clear association is evident between CL1 sites and the magnitude of groundwater abstraction for irrigated agriculture (Fig. S15b of the ESM). CL1 sites also show no clear bias to annual flood inundation depths (Fig. S15d of the ESM). In northwestern Bangladesh where annual flood inundation depths are low (<0.9 m), groundwater replenishment is expected to derive predominantly from direct, diffuse recharge. In south-central and northeastern Bangladesh as well as areas proximate to river channels where annual flood inundation depths are higher (>0.9 m), focused groundwater recharge pathways are expected to become more prominent (Fig. 7a). Focused groundwater recharge ultimately depends, however, upon favourable hydraulic gradients between flood depths and underlying groundwater levels. This evidence from statistical clustering, combined with site observations at Bhuapur, challenge assumptions (e.g., Water Resources Planning Organisation 2000a) that groundwater recharge to shallow aquifers in Holocene sediments occurs solely via diffuse recharge.

Groundwater recharge in Plio-Pleistocene sedimentary environments

In the Plio-Pleistocene environment of Savar, more gradual and smoother seasonal rises in GWLs (0.5–1 m) are observed relative to Bhuapur. GWLs lag the seasonal rise in adjacent SWLs by one and a half months (Fig. 6b). Over two consecutive years in Fig. 6a, the second peak in hydraulic head during 2010 is lower (by ~1.5 m) and delayed by 1 month (from October to November) relative to 2009. A consistent 1-month lag between peak levels of shallow GWLs and SWLs is commonly observed in the monitoring boreholes in Madhupur and Barind Tracts where direct rain-fed recharge to underlying Plio-Pleistocene aquifers is constrained by a low-permeable surface geology (Fig. S8 of the ESM; Shamsudduha et al. 2011).

Confined aquifer conditions suggested by the high BE (64–81%) correspond to lithological data (Fig. S1 of the ESM) showing the presence of a low-permeability confining layer (Madhupur Clay) to a depth of between 13 and 14 m below ground level. In practice, the degree of confinement is expected to change slowly with depth in association with a fining upwards sequence from sands to clay that is characteristic of Plio-Pleistocene depositional environments in the Bengal Basin. Seasonality in the GWL regime at Savar reduces dramatically in the deeper borehole (DH115) after 2003–2004 suggesting a gradual change in hydraulic conditions that likely comprises a transition from a confined to unconfined conditions as hydraulic head declines. In Savar, sharp increases in groundwater abstraction for industry began approximately in 2000 and have impacted wells locally including DH115. This transition is commonly observed in wells across the Plio-Pleistocene terraces including the Madhupur and Barind Tracts where GWLs drop below the upper silt and clay layer due to intensive abstraction (Water Resources Planning Organisation 2000b; Shamsudduha et al. 2011; Nowreen 2017).

Seasonal rises in GWLs are consequently attributed to focused recharge occurring via incised drainage channels that have cut through the overlying surface clays into the underlying sand aquifer. Lateral discontinuity in surface clays may also exist and enable hydraulic connections between river channels and shallow aquifers. Such indirect recharge pathways to the Plio-Pleistocene aquifer have previously been proposed by Zahid et al. (2008) and Burgess et al. (2011). The reduction in seasonality that characterises hydrographs in CL3, combined with noted lags between GWLs and SWLs, do not suggest that seasonal fluctuations result from poroelastic responses to surface loading and unloading.

The observed GWL regime at Savar, as represented by DH115, is characterised as CL3 and associated predominantly with Pleistocene terrace areas of Barind and Madhupur Tracts (Fig. S15a,c of the ESM) where confining and semiconfining aquifer conditions are common (Ravenscroft and Rahman 2003). This cluster is also associated with moderate to high abstraction (as mentioned in Table S2 of the ESM) and bias to areas where annual flood inundation is low, primarily <0.3 m (Fig. S15b,d and Table S3 of the ESM). Consequently, opportunities for localised, focused recharge from seasonal floodwaters are reduced not only by lower surface-water levels but more importantly by much less permeable surface soils. Indeed, in these areas with a substantial thickness of silty-clay cover, diffuse recharge is often insufficient to sustain high rates of groundwater abstraction for dry-season irrigation, leading to groundwater-level declines and substantial reductions in seasonality associated with shifts from confined to unconfined storage conditions.

Concluding discussion

High-frequency and long-term groundwater-level observations, combined with records of rainfall and river stage, reveal contrasting hydrogeological responses to the Asian monsoon in the two primary depositional environments in the Bengal Mega-delta of Bangladesh. These contrasting hydrological responses reflect different recharge processes. In Holocene sediments, rain-fed recharge is observed to occur directly and rapidly via a transmissive surface geology; indirect recharge via adjacent river channels is also strongly indicated. Despite substantial increases in abstraction, declining trends in groundwater levels are largely absent and point to increased recharge capture (i.e. induced recharge) that is consistent with the concept of the Ganges Water Machine proposed by Revelle and Lakshminarayana (1975) and observed previously in Bangladesh by Shamsudduha et al. (2011). In Plio-Pleistocene sediments, direct groundwater recharge is inhibited, even under extreme rainfall, by a relatively impermeable clay layer (Madhupur Clay) that produces confining conditions. There is, however, evidence that intensive abstraction in the noted absence of direct recharge has lowered groundwater levels below the confining layer leading to a transition from confined to unconfined aquifer conditions. Seasonal recharge in Plio-Pleistocene sediments can occur via leakage from hydraulically connected distributaries during the monsoon. Steady changes in the seasonality of groundwater-level time series (i.e. amplified seasonality for the Bhurapur cluster 1, diminished seasonality for Savar cluster 3), combined with time-lags between observed oscillations in surface water and groundwater levels at Bhuapur and Savar, suggest that seasonal groundwater-level rises do not derive substantially from poroelastic effects, noted recently in coastal Bangladesh by Burgess et al. (2017). Poroelastic effects associated with seasonal mass loading may, however, also contribute to groundwater-level responses in Holocene sediments observed at Bhuapur.

The evidence of contrasting recharge regimes in the two primary depositional environments of the Bengal Mega-delta has important implications for water supply. Groundwater depletion is pronounced in Plio-Pleistocene deposits where the low permeability of the surficial clays inhibits rain-fed recharge. The more permeable surface geology in Holocene deposits enables direct and indirect recharge, and facilitates recharge induced by intensive groundwater abstraction during the dry-season for irrigation. The current analysis is unable, however, to quantify the relative proportions of direct and indirect recharge. Nevertheless, the observation of both direct and indirect recharge processes in the Bengal Mega-delta highlights the potential limitations of recharge assessments which employ tools and models that exclude indirect recharge. As the hydrological and depositional environments of other Asian mega-deltas mirror those of the Bengal Basin, assessments of groundwater recharge and the sustainability of groundwater use will need to recognise shallow groundwater and surface water as coupled systems in which changes in one system (e.g., river discharge, groundwater abstraction) influence the other.

References

  • Acworth RI, Rau GC, McCallum AM, Andersen MS, Cuthbert MO (2015) Understanding connected surface-water/groundwater systems using Fourier analysis of daily and sub-daily head fluctuations. Hydrogeol J 23:143–159. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-014-1182-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ahammed F, Hewa GA, Argue JR (2014) Variability of annual daily maximum rainfall of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Atmos Res 137:176–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosres.2013.10.013

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ahmad MD, Kirby M, Islam MS, Hossain MJ, Islam MM (2014) Groundwater use for irrigation and its productivity: status and opportunities for crop intensification for food security in Bangladesh. Water Resour Manag 28:1415–1429. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-014-0560-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ahmed KM, Bhattacharya P, Hasan MA, Akhter SH, Alam SMM, Bhuyian MAH, Imam MB, Khan AA, Sracek O (2004) Arsenic enrichment in groundwater of the alluvial aquifers in Bangladesh: an overview. Appl Geochem 19:181–200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2003.09.006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Akter J, Sarker MH, Popescu I, Roelvink D (2016) Evolution of the Bengal Delta and its prevailing processes. J Coast Res 321:1212–1226. https://doi.org/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-14-00232.1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Alam MK, Shahidul HAK, Khan MR, Whitney JW (1990) Geological map of Bangladesh. Geological Survey of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Google Scholar 

  • Alauddin M, Quiggin J (2008) Agricultural intensification, irrigation and the environment in South Asia: issues and policy options. Ecol Econ 65:111–124. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.06.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aziz Z, van Geen A, Stute M, Versteeg R, Horneman A, Zheng Y, Goodbred S, Steckler M, Weinman B, Gavrieli I, Hoque MA, Shamsudduha M, Ahmed KM (2008) Impact of local recharge on arsenic concentrations in shallow aquifers inferred from the electromagnetic conductivity of soils in Araihazar, Bangladesh. Water Resour Res 44:0043–1397. https://doi.org/10.1029/2007WR006000

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (2012) Statistical year book. Ministry of Planning, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Google Scholar 

  • Bloomfield JP, Marchant BP, Bricker SH, Morgan RB (2015) Regional analysis of groundwater droughts using hydrograph classification. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 19:4327–4344. https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-4327-2015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brammer H (1988) Land resources appraisal of Bangladesh for agricultural development. FAO and UNDP, Rome, Italy

    Google Scholar 

  • Bui DD, Kawamura A, Tong TN, Amaguchi H, Trinh TM (2012) Aquifer system for potential groundwater resources in Hanoi, Vietnam. Hydrol Process 26:932–946. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.8305

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burgess WG, Hasan MK, Rihani E, Ahmed KM, Hoque MA, Darling WG (2011) Groundwater quality trends in the Dupi Tila aquifer of Dhaka, Bangladesh: sources of contamination evaluated using modelling and environmental isotopes. Int J Urban Sustain Dev 3:56–76. https://doi.org/10.1080/19463138.2011.554662

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burgess WG, Shamsudduha M, Taylor RG, Burgess WG, Shamsudduha M, Taylor RG, Zahid A, Ahmed KM, Mukherjee A, Lapworth DJ, Bense VF (2017) Terrestrial water load and groundwater fluctuation in the Bengal Basin. Sci Rep 7:3872. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-04159-w

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Charrad M, Ghazzali N, Boiteau V, Niknafs A (2014) NbClust: an R package for determining the relevant number of clusters in a data set. J Stat Softw 61:1–36. https://doi.org/10.18637/jss.v061.i06

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cuthbert MO, Taylor RG, Favreau G, Todd MC, Shamsudduha M, Villholth KG, MacDonald AM, Scanlon BR, Kotchoni DOV, Vouillamoz J-M, Lawson FMA, Adjomayi PA, Kashaigili J, Seddon D, Sorensen JPR, Ebrahim GY, Owor M, Nyenje PM, Nazoumou Y, Goni I, Ousmane BI, Sibanda T, Ascott MJ, Macdonald DMJ, Agyekum W, Koussoubé Y, Wanke H, Kim H, Wada Y, Lo M-H, Oki T, Kukuric N (2019) Observed controls on resilience of groundwater to climate variability in sub-Saharan Africa. Nature 572:230–234. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1441-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Darling WG, Burgess WG, Hasan MK (2002) Isotopic evidence for induced river recharge to the Dupi Tila aquifer in the Dhaka urban area, Bangladesh. In: The application of isotope techniques to the assessment of aquifer systems in major urban areas. TECDOC 1298, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna

  • de Vries JJ, Simmers I (2002) Groundwater recharge: an overview of processes and challenges. Hydrogeol J 10:5–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-001-0171-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) (2001) Arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh, vol 2. Final report, British Geological Survey, Keyworth, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Fendorf S, Michael HA, van Geen A (2010) Spatial and Temporal Variations of Groundwater Arsenic in South and Southeast Asia. Science 328:1123–1127. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1172974

  • Frich P, Alexander LV, Della-Marta P, Gleason B, Haylock M, Tank AMGK (2002) Observed coherent changes in climatic extremes during the second half of the twentieth century. Clim Res 19:193–212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goodbred SL, Kuehl SA (2000) The significance of large sediment supply, active tectonism, and eustasy on margin sequence development: Late Quaternary stratigraphy and evolution of the Ganges–Brahmaputra delta. Sediment Geol 133:227–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0037-0738(00)00041-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hardoy JE, Mitlin D, Satterthwaite D (2013) Environmental problems in an urbanizing world: finding solutions in cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis, London

  • Harvey CF, Ashfaque KN, Yu W, Badruzzaman ABM, Ali MA, Oates PM, Michael HA, Neumann RB, Beckie R, Islam S, Ahmed MF (2006) Groundwater dynamics and arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. Chem Geol 228:112–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemgeo.2005.11.025

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hassan MQ, Zahid A (2011) Management of overexploited Dhaka City aquifer, Bangladesh. J Nepal Geol Soc 43:277–283. https://doi.org/10.3126/jngs.v43i0.25615

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Healy RW, Scanlon BR (2010) Estimating groundwater recharge. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hoque MA, Hoque MM, Ahmed KM (2007) Declining groundwater level and aquifer dewatering in Dhaka metropolitan area, Bangladesh: causes and quantification. Hydrogeol J 15:1523–1534. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-007-0226-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoque MA, McArthur JM, Sikdar PK, Ball JD, Molla TN (2014) Tracing recharge to aquifers beneath an Asian megacity with Cl/Br and stable isotopes: the example of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hydrogeol J 22:1549–1560. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-014-1155-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Islam MN, Ferdousi N, Rahman MA, Ahsan MN, Abdullah SMA (2008) Understanding the rainfall climatology and detection of extreme weather events in SAARC region: part I, Bangladesh. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation-SAARC Meteorological Research Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh

  • Kirby JM, Ahmad MD, Mainuddin M, Palash W, Quadir ME, Shah-Newaz SM, Hossain MM (2015) The impact of irrigation development on regional groundwater resources in Bangladesh. Agric Water Manag 159:264–276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2015.05.026

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kirby M, Ahmad MD, Poulton P, Zhu Z, Lee G, Mainuddin M (2013) Review of water, crop production and system modelling approaches for food security studies in the eastern Gangetic Plains. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Canberra, Australia

    Google Scholar 

  • Li A, Tsai FT-C (2020) Understanding dynamics of groundwater flows in the Mississippi River Delta. J Hydrol 583:124616. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.124616

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Master Plan Organisation (1987) The groundwater resource and its availability for development. Technical report, National Water Plan Phase-I. Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 5 pp

  • Michael HA, Voss CI (2009) Controls on groundwater flow in the Bengal Basin of India and Bangladesh: regional modeling analysis. Hydrogeol J 17:1561–1577. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-008-0429-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Naik PK, Tambe JA, Dehury BN, Tiwari AN (2008) Impact of urbanization on the groundwater regime in a fast growing city in central India. Environ Monit Assess 146:339–373. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-007-0084-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nowreen S (2017) Mechanism of groundwater response to recharge and its quantification for shallow aquifers in Bangladesh. PhD Thesis, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka, Bangladesh

  • Nowreen S, Murshed SB, Islam AKMS, Bhaskaran B, Hasan MA (2015) Changes of rainfall extremes around the Haor Basin areas of Bangladesh using multi-member ensemble RCM. Theor Appl Climatol 119:363–377. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-014-1101-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • R Core Team (2016) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Found. Stat. Comput, Vienna, Austria

  • Ravenscroft P, Rahman AA (2003) Groundwater resources and development in Bangladesh background to the arsenic crisis. In: Agriculture Potential and the Environment, The University Press Limited, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Google Scholar 

  • Ravenscroft P, Burgess WG, Ahmed KM, Burren M, Perrin J (2005) Arsenic in groundwater of the Bengal Basin, Bangladesh: distribution, field relations, and hydrogeological setting. Hydrogeol J 13:727–751. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-003-0314-0

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reimann KU (1993) Geology of Bangladesh. Schweizerbart, Stuttgart, Germany

    Google Scholar 

  • Revelle R, Lakshminarayana V (1975) The Ganges Water Machine. Science 188:611–616. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.188.4188.611

  • Rudorff CM, Melack JM, Bates PD (2014) Flooding dynamics on the lower Amazon floodplain: 1. hydraulic controls on water elevation, inundation extent, and river-floodplain discharge. Water Resour Res 50:619–634. https://doi.org/10.1002/2013WR014091

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saleh AFM, Nishat A (1989) Review of assessments of groundwater resources in Bangladesh: quantity and quality. J Irrig Eng Rural Plan 17:48–59. https://doi.org/10.11408/jierp1982.1989.17_48

  • Sawyer AH, Edmonds DA, Knights D (2015) Surface water-groundwater connectivity in deltaic distributary channel networks. Geophys Res Lett 42:10210–299306. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015GL066156

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scanlon BR, Keese KE, Flint AL, Flint LE, Gaye CB, Edmunds WM, Simmers I (2006) Global synthesis of groundwater recharge in semiarid and arid regions. Hydrol Process 20:3335–3370. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.6335

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shamsudduha M, Uddin A (2007) Quaternary shoreline shifting and hydrogeologic influence on the distribution of groundwater arsenic in aquifers of the Bengal Basin. J Asian Earth Sci 31:177–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jseaes.2007.07.001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shamsudduha M, Chandler RE, Taylor RG, Ahmed KM (2009) Recent trends in groundwater levels in a highly seasonal hydrological system: the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 13:2373–2385. https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-13-2373-2009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shamsudduha M, Taylor RG, Ahmed KM, Zahid A (2011) The impact of intensive groundwater abstraction on recharge to a shallow regional aquifer system: evidence from Bangladesh. Hydrogeol J 19:901–916. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-011-0723-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shamsudduha M, Taylor RG, Longuevergne L (2012) Monitoring groundwater storage changes in the highly seasonal humid tropics: validation of GRACE measurements in the Bengal Basin. Water Resour Res 48. https://doi.org/10.1029/2011WR010993

  • Shamsudduha M, Taylor RG, Chandler RE (2015) A generalized regression model of arsenic variations in the shallow groundwater of Bangladesh. Water Resour Res 51:685–703. https://doi.org/10.1002/2013WR014572

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shamsudduha M, Joseph G, Haque SS, Khan MR, Zahid A, Ahmed KMU (2019) Multi-hazard groundwater risks to water supply from shallow depths: challenges to achieving the sustainable development goals in Bangladesh. Expo Heal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12403-019-00325-9

  • Stute M, Zheng Y, Schlosser P, Horneman A, Dhar RK, Datta S, Hoque MA, Seddique AA, Shamsudduha M, Ahmed KM, van Geen A (2007) Hydrological control of as concentrations in Bangladesh groundwater. Water Resour Res 43:W09417. https://doi.org/10.1029/2005WR004499

  • United Nations Development Programme (1982) Groundwater survey: the Hydrogeologic conditions of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Water Development Board, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Google Scholar 

  • van Geen A, Bostick BC, Thi Kim Trang P, Lan VM, Mai N-N, Manh PD, Viet PH, Radloff K, Aziz Z, Mey JL, Stahl MO, Harvey CF, Oates P, Weinman B, Stengel C, Frei F, Kipfer R (2013) Retardation of arsenic transport through a Pleistocene aquifer. Nature 501:204–207. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12444

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vernieuwe H, Verhoest NEC, De Baets B, Hoeben R, De Troch FP (2007) Cluster-based fuzzy models for groundwater flow in the unsaturated zone. Adv Water Resour 30:701–714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.advwatres.2006.06.012

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wada Y, van Beek LPH, van Kempen CM, Reckman JWTM, Vasak S, Bierkens MFP (2010) Global depletion of groundwater resources. Geophys Res Lett 37:L20402. https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL044571

  • Water Resources Planning Organisation (2000a) Estimation of groundwater resources. National Water Management Plan-II. Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Google Scholar 

  • Water Resources Planning Organisation (2000b) Draft development strategy, vol 11, annex O: regional environmental profiles. Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Google Scholar 

  • Wolski P, Savenije HHG (2006) Dynamics of floodplain-island groundwater flow in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. J Hydrol 320:283–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2005.07.027

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Woodman ND, Burgess WG, Ahmed KM, Zahid A (2019) A partially coupled hydro-mechanical analysis of the Bengal aquifer system under hydrological loading. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 23:2461–2479. https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-23-2461-2019

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zahid A, Ahmed SRU (2006) Groundwater resources development in Bangladesh: contribution to irrigation for food security and constraints to sustainability. International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanke, pp 25–46

  • Zahid A, Haque A, Islam MS, Hasan MAFMR, Hassan MQ (2008) Groundwater resources potential in the deltaic flood-plain area of Madaripur District, southern Bangladesh. J Appl Irrig Sci 43:41–56

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhang X, Yang F (2004) RClimDex (1.0) user manual. Climate Research Branch, Environment Canada, Downsview, ON

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the assistance of M. Rezaul Haq (formerly at DU Geology) in field installation and periodic downloading of recorded data from dataloggers and also for conducting field surveys of groundwater use in both study sites.

Funding

SN gratefully acknowledges support of a Commonwealth Split-Site Scholarship (BDCN-2014-4), a Charles Wallace Visiting Fellowship (BC 2016/0484), and a Bangabandhu PhD Fellowship funded by the Government of Bangladesh. MS acknowledges support from the Chadwick Trust (UCL). RGT and MS acknowledge support from DFID (UK government) under grant GA/11F/099/S2, Groundwater resources in the Indo-Gangetic Basin: resilience to climate change and pumping. RGT acknowledges support from a Royal Society - Leverhulme Trust Senior Fellowship (Ref. LT170004).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sara Nowreen.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(PDF 3301 kb)

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Nowreen, S., Taylor, R.G., Shamsudduha, M. et al. Groundwater recharge processes in an Asian mega-delta: hydrometric evidence from Bangladesh. Hydrogeol J 28, 2917–2932 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-020-02238-3

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-020-02238-3

Keywords

  • Groundwater recharge
  • River flow
  • Unconsolidated sediments
  • Bangladesh
  • Mega-delta