Turbidity as an Indicator of Contamination in Karst Springs: A Short Review

  • Ferry SchiperskiEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Karst Science book series (AKS)


Karst aquifers are known to be prone to a variety of different types of contamination from a range of different sources. Due to the rapid recharge and high transport velocities associated with karst aquifers, karst springs usually show high discharge dynamics, and water quality often deteriorates very quickly following storm events due to the presence of contaminants such as pathogens, heavy metals, or pesticides. Turbidity has frequently been reported to vary in proportion to the concentration of contaminants in karst spring water, and its use has therefore been proposed to detect periods of contamination. A systematic relationship between such an easily measured parameter and contaminants would be useful for sustainable management of raw water resources in karst aquifers, especially in countries where water is scarce and event water cannot be easily discarded. In this study, we critically review a number of karst spring investigations in which turbidity has been shown to be an effective indicator for contamination. We conclude by identifying the conditions under which turbidity might be valid used to indicate contamination of karst spring water, and those under which this approach appears to be less effective. Our main findings are that the usefulness of turbidity as an indicator of contamination varies from one karst catchment to another and that a critical evaluation of contaminant and turbidity input and transport modes is required for each individual karst system before turbidity can be successfully used as an indicator of contamination. A conceptual model that combines different input and transport modes of turbidity and contaminants is presented.


  1. Auckenthaler, A., G. Raso, and P. Huggenberger. 2002. Particle transport in a karst aquifer: Natural and artificial tracer experiments with bacteria, bacteriophages and microspheres. Water Science and Technology 46 (3): 131–138.Google Scholar
  2. Bonacci, O., and R. Živaljević. 1993. Hydrological explanation of the flow in karst: Example of the crnojevica spring. Journal of Hydrology 146: 405–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boyer, D.G., and G.C. Pasquarell. 1999. Agricultural land use impacts on bacterial water quality in a karst groundwater aquifer. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 35 (2): 291–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Caetano Bicalho, C., C. Batiot-Guilhe, J. Seidel, S. van Exter, and H. Jourde. 2012. Geochemical evidence of water source characterization and hydro-dynamic responses in a karst aquifer. Journal of Hydrology 450–451: 206–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chrysikopoulos, C.V., and V.I. Syngouna. 2014. Effect of gravity on colloid transport through water-saturated columns packed with glass beads: Modeling and experiments. Environmental Science and Technology 48 (12): 6805–6813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dussart-Baptista, L., N. Massei, J.-P. Dupont, and T. Jouenne. 2003. Transfer of bacteria-contaminated particles in a karst aquifer: Evolution of contaminated materials from a sinkhole to a spring. Journal of Hydrology 284 (1–4): 285–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Einsiedl, F. 2005. Flow system dynamics and water storage of a fissured-porous karst aquifer characterized by artificial and environmental tracers. Journal of Hydrology 312 (1–4): 312–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Flynn, R.M., and M. Sinreich. 2010. Characterisation of virus transport and attenuation in epikarst using short pulse and prolonged injection multi-tracer testing. Water Research 44 (4): 1138–1149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ford, D., and P.W. Williams. 2007. Karst hydrogeology and geomorphology. Chicester, UK: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fournier, M., N. Massei, M. Bakalowicz, L. Dussart-Baptista, J. Rodet, and J.P. Dupont. 2007. Using turbidity dynamics and geochemical variability as a tool for understanding the behavior and vulnerability of a karst aquifer. Hydrogeology Journal 15 (4): 689–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Geyer, T., S. Birk, R. Liedl, and M. Sauter. 2008. Quantification of temporal distribution of recharge in karst systems from spring hydrographs. Journal of Hydrology 348 (3–4): 452–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Göppert, N., and N. Goldscheider. 2008. Solute and colloid transport in karst conduits under low- and high-flow conditions. Ground Water 46 (1): 61–68.Google Scholar
  13. Göppert, N., and N. Goldscheider. 2011. Transport and variability of fecal bacteria in carbonate conglomerate aquifers. Ground Water 49 (1): 77–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grasso, D.A., and P.-Y. Jeannin. 2002. A global experimental system approach of karst springs hydrographs and chemographs. Ground Water 40 (6): 608–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harvey, R.W., D.W. Metge, A.M. Shapiro, R.A. Renken, C.L. Osborn, J.N. Ryan, K.J. Cunningham, and L. Landkamer. 2008. Pathogen and chemical transport in the karst limestone of the Biscayne Aquifer: 3. Use of microspheres to estimate the transport potential of cryptosporidium parvum oocysts. Water Resources Research 44(8).Google Scholar
  16. Heinz, B., S. Birk, R. Liedl, T. Geyer, K.L. Straus, K. Bester, and A. Kappler. 2006. Vulnerability of a karst spring to wastewater infiltration (Gallusquelle, Southwest Germany). Austrian Journal of Earth Sciences 99: 11–17.Google Scholar
  17. Heinz, B., S. Birk, R. Liedl, T. Geyer, K.L. Straub, J. Andresen, K. Bester, and A. Kappler. 2009. Water quality deterioration at a karst spring (Gallusquelle, Germany) due to combined sewer overflow: Evidence of bacterial and micro-pollutant contamination. Environmental Geology 57 (4): 797–808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Herman, E.K., L. Toran, and W.B. White. 2012. Clastic sediment transport and storage in fluviokarst aquifers: An essential component of karst hydrogeology. Carbonates and Evaporites 27 (3–4): 211–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hillebrand, O., K. Nödler, T. Licha, M. Sauter, and T. Geyer. 2012. Caffeine as an indicator for the quantification of untreated wastewater in karst systems. Water Research 46 (2): 395–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hillebrand, O., K. Nödler, T. Geyer, and T. Licha. 2014. Investigating the dynamics of two herbicides at a karst spring in Germany: Consequences for sustainable raw water management. Science of the Total Environment 482–483: 193–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hillebrand, O., K. Nödler, M. Sauter, and T. Licha. 2015. Multitracer experiment to evaluate the attenuation of selected organic micropollutants in a karst aquifer. Science of the Total Environment 506–507: 338–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Howell, J., M. Coyne, and P. Cornelius. 1996. Effect of sediment particle size and temperature on fecal bacteria mortality rates and the fecal coliform/fecal streptococci ratio. Journal of Environmental Quality 25 (6): 1216–1220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jin, Y., and M. Flury. 2002. Fate and transport of viruses in porous media. In Advances in agronomy, 39–102. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  24. John, D., and J. Rose. 2005. Review of factors affecting Microbial survival in groundwater. Environmental Science and Technology 39 (19): 7345–7356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Katz, B.G., D.W. Griffin, and J.H. Davis. 2009. Groundwater quality impacts from the land application of treated municipal wastewater in a large karstic spring basin: Chemical and microbiological indicators. Science of the Total Environment 407 (8): 2872–2886.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Knappett, P.S., M.B. Emelko, J. Zhuang, and L.D. McKay. 2008. Transport and retention of a bacteriophage and microspheres in saturated, angular porous media: Effects of ionic strength and grain size. Water Research 42 (16): 4368–4378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Liedl, R., M. Sauter, D. Hückinghaus, T. Clemens, and G. Teutsch. 2003. Simulation of the development of karst aquifers using a coupled continuum pipe flow model. Water Resources Research 39(3).Google Scholar
  28. Mahler, B.J., and F. Lynch. 1999. Muddy waters: Temporal variation in sediment discharging from a karst spring. Journal of Hydrology 214 (1–4): 165–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mahler, B.J., L. Lynch, and P.C. Bennett. 1999. Mobile sediment in an urbanizing karst aquifer: Implications for contaminant transport. Environmental Geology 39 (1): 25–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mahler, B., J.-C. Personné, G. Lods, and C. Drogue. 2000. Transport of free and particulate-associated bacteria in karst. Journal of Hydrology 238 (3–4): 179–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Massei, N., H. Wang, J. Dupont, J. Rodet, and B. Laignel. 2003. Assessment of direct transfer and re-suspension of particles during turbid floods at a karstic spring. Journal of Hydrology 275 (1–2): 109–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pronk, M. 2008. Origin and behaviour of microorganisms and particles in selected karst aquifer systems. Ph.D. thesis, Centre for Hydrogeology and Geothermics CHYN, University of Neuchtel, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  33. Pronk, M., N. Goldscheider, and J. Zopfi. 2006. Dynamics and interaction of organic carbon, turbidity and bacteria in a karst aquifer system. Hydrogeology Journal 14 (4): 473–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pronk, M., N. Goldscheider, and J. Zopfi. 2007. Particle-size distribution as indicator for fecal bacteria contamination of drinking water from karst springs. Environmental Science & Technology 41 (24): 8400–8405.Google Scholar
  35. Pronk, M., N. Goldscheider, J. Zopfi, and F. Zwahlen. 2009. Percolation and particle transport in the unsaturated zone of a karst aquifer. Ground Water 47 (3): 361–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Reh, R., T. Licha, T. Geyer, K. Nödler, and M. Sauter. 2013. Occurrence and spatial distribution of organic micro-pollutants in a complex hydrogeological karst system during low flow and high flow periods, results of a two-year study. Science of the Total Environment 443: 438–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ryan, M., and J. Meiman. 1996. An examination of short-term variations in water quality at a karst spring in Kentucky. Ground Water 34 (1): 23–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ryzinska-Paier, G., T. Lendenfeld, K. Correa, P. Stadler, A. Blaschke, R. Mach, H. Stadler, A. Kirschner, and A. Farnleitner. 2014. A sensitive and robust method for automated on-line monitoring of enzymatic activities in water and water resources. Water Science and Technology 69 (6): 1349–1358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schiperski, F., J. Zirlewagen, O. Hillebrand, T. Licha, and T. Scheytt. 2015a. Preliminary results on the dynamics of particles and their size distribution at a karst spring during a snowmelt event. Journal of Hydrology 524: 326–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schiperski, F., J. Zirlewagen, O. Hillebrand, K. Nödler, T. Licha, and T. Scheytt. 2015b. Relationship between organic micropollutants and hydro-sedimentary processes at a karst spring in south-west Germany. Science of the Total Environment 532: 360–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schiperski, F., J. Zirlewagen, and T. Scheytt. 2016. Transport behavior and attenuation of colloids of different density and surface charge: A karst aquifer field study. Environmental Science and Technology 50 (15): 8028–8035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schwarz, K., T. Gocht, and P. Grathwohl. 2011. Transport of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in highly vulnerable karst systems. Environmental Pollution 159 (1): 133–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sinreich, M., R. Flynn, and J. Zopfi. 2009. Use of particulate surrogates for assessing microbial mobility in subsurface ecosystems. Hydrogeology Journal 17 (1): 49–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sinreich, M., M. Pronk, and R. Kozel. 2014. Microbiological monitoring and classification of karst springs. Environmental Earth Sciences 71 (2): 563–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Stadler, H., E. Klock, P. Skritek, R.L. Mach, W. Zerobin, and A.H. Farnleitner. 2010. The spectral absorption coefficient at 254 nm as a real-time early warning proxy for detecting faecal pollution events at alpine karst water resources. Water Science and Technology 62 (8): 1898.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stueber, A.M., and R.E. Criss. 2005. Origin and transport of dissolved chemicals in a karst watershed, southwestern Illinois. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 41 (2): 267–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thorn, R., and C. Coxon. 1992. Hydrogeological aspects of bacterial contamination of some western Ireland karstic limestone aquifers. Environmental Geology and Water Sciences 20 (1): 65–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tryland, I., F. Eregno, H. Braathen, G. Khalaf, I. Sjølander, and M. Fossum. 2015. On-line monitoring of Escherichia coli in raw water at Oset drinking water treatment plant, Oslo (Norway). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12 (2): 1788–1802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tufenkji, N., and M. Elimelech. 2005. Breakdown of colloid filtration theory: Role of the secondary energy minimum and surface charge heterogeneities. Langmuir 21 (3): 841–852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Valdes, D., J.-P. Dupont, N. Massei, B. Laignel, and J. Rodet. 2005. Analysis of karst hydrodynamics through comparison of dissolved and suspended solids’ transport. Comptes Rendus Geoscience 337 (15): 1365–1374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Valdes, D., J.-P. Dupont, N. Massei, B. Laignel, and J. Rodet. 2006. Investigation of karst hydrodynamics and organization using autocorrelations and T–∆C curves. Journal of Hydrology 329 (3–4): 432–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Vanloosdrecht, M., J. Lyklema, W. Norde, and A. Zehnder. 1990. Influence of interfaces on microbial activity. Microbiological Reviews 54 (1): 75–87.Google Scholar
  53. Vesper, D.J., and W.B. White. 2003. Metal transport to karst springs during storm flow: An example from Fort Campbell, Kentucky/Tennessee, USA. Journal of Hydrology 276 (14): 20–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vesper, D., and W.B. White. 2004. Spring and conduit sediments as storage reservoirs for heavy metals in karst aquifers. Environmental Geology 45 (4): 481–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vesper, D.J., C.M. Loop, and W.B. White. 2003. Contaminant transport in karst aquifers. Speleogenesis and Evolution of Karst Aquifers 2 (1): 1–11.Google Scholar
  56. Williams, P.W. 1983. The role of the subcutaneous zone in karst hydrology. Journal of Hydrology 61 (1–3): 45–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Williams, G. 1989. Sediment concentration versus water discharge during single hydrologic events in rivers. Journal of Hydrology 111 (1–4): 89–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zhang, P., W. Johnson, M. Piana, C. Fuller, and D. Naftz. 2001. Potential artifacts in interpretation of differential breakthrough of colloids and dissolved tracers in the context of transport in a zero-valent iron permeable reactive barrier. Ground Water 39 (6): 831–840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zhuang, J., and Y. Jin. 2008. Interactions between viruses and goethite during saturated flow: Effects of solution pH, carbonate, and phosphate. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 98 (1–2): 15–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Zirlewagen, J., T. Licha, F. Schiperski, K. Nödler, and T. Scheytt. 2016. Use of two artificial sweeteners, cyclamate and acesulfame, to identify and quantify wastewater contributions in a karst spring. Science of the Total Environment 547: 356–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Applied Geosciences, Hydrogeology Research GroupTechnische Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.BerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations