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A stable isotope study of the Garda lake, northern Italy: Its hydrological balance

Longinelli, A., Stenni, B., Genoni, L., Flora, O., Defrancesco, C., Pellegrini, G.
Journal of hydrology 2008 v.360 no.1-4 pp. 103-116
lakes, surface water, hydrochemistry, stable isotopes, oxygen, deuterium, tritium, water balance, stream flow, rivers, rain, spring, summer, groundwater flow, Italy
Discontinuous measurements of the isotopic composition of surface water samples of the Garda lake carried out between 1998 and 2006 showed almost constant δ ¹⁸O, δD and d-excess values through time. During 2006 and 2007 monthly vertical profiles of water samples were collected in the northernmost section of the lake, not far from the main inflow (Sarca river) to check whether there was any detectable influence from this inflowing river and whether there was a vertical isotopic stratification of the lake water. The isotopic measurement of water samples from the vertical profiles yielded isotopic values which were almost equal to those obtained from surface waters showing no detectable effect of the inflowing river water and no isotopic vertical stratification. The attempt to evaluate the evaporation rate of lake water by means of current models was totally unsuccessful. Despite the marked summer warming of the surface layer no isotopic fractionation related to evaporation processes could be detected. This anomalous behaviour may be related to the large amount of spring and summer precipitation characteristic of this area. The water balance of the lake calculated according to the amount of the inflowing water (Sarca river water plus rain water on the lake plus 20% of the precipitations on the whole catchment basin) and to the amount of outflowing water (Mincio river) showed a large imbalance, the river outflow alone resulting on average, during the last decade, at least double the inflow. To explain this imbalance of the lake, a large recharge by concealed groundwater is suggested: its isotopic composition should be quite close to the mean isotopic composition of precipitations over that area. This would be in agreement with the almost constant isotopic composition of both surface and deep waters and with the lack of vertical isotopic stratification. A few measurements of the tritium concentration carried out on lake water show values that are considerably higher than modern tritium values either in precipitation or in the Sarca river water: these results are in good agreement with the hypothesis of a recharge of the lake by deep aquifers.