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Regionalization in Hydrology (Proceedings of the Ljubljana

Symposium, April 1990). IAHS Publ. no. 191, 1990.

Regionalization in karst regions

Faculty of Civil Engineering Sciences, Split University, 58000 Split,
Veselina MasleSe bb, Yugoslavia

According to specific characteristics of water
circulation in karst the paper attempts to define the essential
regional karst hydrological parameters. They should be used for
determining a specific regional karst hydrology which should,
at least from the methodology standpoint, be valid for all
karst terrains in the world.
Rgionalisation dans les rgions karstiques
Rsum Vu les spcificits du processus de l'coulement dans le
karst, on a essay dans ce rapport de dfinir les paramtres
essentiels, rgionaux, karstiques-hydrologiques. Ils devraient servir
l'tablissement d'une hydrologie spcifique rgionale du karst,
qui au moins d'une faon mthodologique pourrait servir pour
tous les terrains karstiques dans le monde.
Hydrological regionalization is a very popular procedure which is used to
enable engineers to translate data, measured at one point, to points where
measurements have not been carried out. In addition to hydrological
regionalization there are other methods and approaches to regionalization;
they all deal with similar or even identical problems related to the distribution
of water in space and time. Hydrologists often make mistakes by neglecting
these other approaches by treating them as less "significant". In modern
science, the interdisciplinary approach has become a principle which is
routinely used to solve complex problems.
Hydrological regionalization, which is a complex method, should use the
principles and logic used in numerous disciplines related to hydrology and to
regionalization. All the previously presented statements refer to the general
problem of hydrological regionalization, and particularly to regionalization of
water in karst terrains. This paper tries to answer the question why these
problems are more directly present in karst. It should be stressed in advance
that the paper does not present any final solutions: it just presents, for public
discussion, some specific considerations on the hydrological regionalization
resulting from the specific conditions of karst hydrology or rather from the
runoff processes in a karst mass.
The essential principles of the hydrological process are identical in karst
and non-karst terrains, but the variations are more specific and numerous in
the conditions of flow in karst. Occasional, quite frequent, "surprises" make

Ognjen Bonacci


some laymen, and often some experts, believe that certain "mysterious"
phenomena, unexpected and unexplicable, occur in karst. A careful analysis of
these so-called "unexpected" phenomena can yield precise answers to the
position, composition and dimensions of underground and surface karst forms.
In the regionalization procedure, the non-homogeneous and anisotropic
features of the karst medium often present a great problem which sometimes
cannot be solved. Special problems arise in streamflows due to the water
sinking underground. Water losses along open channels occur frequently in
karst terrain (Bonacci, 1987). The surface runoff in karst is sporadic because
of its rapid sinking underground. The fast infiltration can be accounted for by
the specific surface features in karst which make its infiltration capacity
almost limitless. These facts explain why hydrological regionalization in karst,
as well as all other regionalizations in karst terrains, is more complex than in
other media which are more homogeneous and isotropic. This has resulted in
the fact that in the literature on hydrology, there has been almost no attempt
to carry out regionalization in karst areas.
Another important problem encountered in regionalization in karst areas
is the strong interaction between surface water and groundwater in karst. The
basic principles of physics which underlie this interaction are not particularly
complex and have been described in detail in the literature. The problems
related to their interpretation appear only due to the fact that it is not easy
to observe these processes in wide and non-homogeneous karst terrains.
Numerous measurements and an accumulated stock of experience in
organizing them are necessary to obtain accurate and reliable data
indispensable for defining parameters reliable for hydrological regionalization.
Concluding the introduction it should be emphasized that there are no
"secrets" or "miracles" in the processes of flow in karst. It is a continuous,
most frequently one-layered and occasionally multi-layered aquifer which, due
to the low effective porosity of the karst medium and its intensive
communication possibilities, reacts very quickly to external effects. These
processes become more complex because of various geological and
hydrogeological factors which can be of regional or local character. These
factors include faults, folds and thrust faults, the relations between permeable
and impermeable rocks, and small and large underground and surface
morphological karst forms.
Another problem is that it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to
determine the catchment boundaries and catchment area in karst. Frequently,
both the catchment area and its boundaries change in time depending
primarily upon the groundwater levels (Bonacci, 1988).
All the previously mentioned factors should be taken into consideration
when regionalizing hydrological parameters in karst.
The specific features of flow through soluble rocks in karst directly affect the
approach to the regionalization of the hydrological parameters of karst.
According to Atkinson (1986) "The soluble rocks are those which dissolve in


Regionalization in karst regions

water, leaving almost no residue. Rock weathering tends to widen fractures

without simultaneously blocking them, allowing water to penetrate and widen
fractures further. Over time the permeability of the rock mass is greatly
enhanced and rainwater, instead of being mostly diverted over the surface
and into rivers, may be entirely absorbed into the ground."
Soluble rocks include c. 20% of all sedimentary rocks. There are three
types of soluble rocks: (a) evaporites; (b) carbonate rocks and (c) silicate
rocks. Voids in soluble rocks may be classified into four types: (a)
intergranular (O^-IO"1 mm); (b) fractures (10_1-10 mm); (c) fissures (10-10
mm) and (d) conduits (102-104 mm). The capacity of karst as a water
recipient is not high but its communication capacity is significant for water
circulation. The effective porosity ranges from 0.1% up to 1 on average
which, combined with other factors, causes very rapid reactions of
groundwater levels to precipitation on the catchment.
Many authors have discussed the heterogeneity of karst water; however,
the theoretical and practical findings of Daoxian (1986) are of particular
interest. He states, according to the water pumping in the karst areas of
China that "Some wells sunk in karstified strata may yield as much as
hundreds tons of water per hour, but there may be less than one ton per
hour in another well just a few metres away. These puzzling phenomena are
referred to as the heterogeneity (or uneven distribution) of karst water. The
heterogeneity degree of a karst aquifer is not only depending on the intensity
of solution or karstification, but more importantly, on the manner of
Consequently, it can be concluded that in hydrological regionalization in
karst it is primarily necessary to define two major types for solution manner:
differential and homogeneous solution.
The next phase of regional analyses should take into account the fact
that in karst there exist two essentially differing types of flow: diffuse and
conduit flow. It should be noted that it is never only one type of flow that
occurs in karst. There exists a significant and permanently present interaction
between the above-mentioned two types of flow. The flow type and
consequently the hydrograph shape are significantly influenced by the presence
and continuous interaction between essentially different karst formations.
nder (1986) gives a general statement "that karst aquifers may be classified
on a broad spectrum. At one extreme of this spectrum, we have entirely pure
diffuse flow where the methods used in conventional granular aquifer are
applicable with slight modifications; and at the other, we have entirely pure
conduit flow where the methods used in classical hydraulics are available. In
nature, the combination of these two modes of flow at various degrees is
encountered. The relative importance of each mode will vary according to
local field conditions." Generally speaking one essential principle holds true.
The conduit type of flow occurs in the periods when karst underground is
filled up to the higher groundwater levels, i.e. in the wet and rainy period of
the year. The diffuse type of flow is predominant in the periods of aquifer
emptying, which occur in the dry period of the year, and especially at the end
of long-lasting summers without rainfall. Gunn (1986) illustrates the results of
his research by a graphical presentation (Fig. 1) of the hypothetical travel


Ognjen Bonacci

5 6 7 8 9




3 ) 6 0 7 0 8O9DB0



0 600

Fig. 1 Hypothetical travel time relationship for: (1) simple

phreatic conduit; (2) simple vadose conduit; (3) vadose conduit with
overflow storage; (4) vadose conduit which becomes phreatic at time
of high flow (according to Gunn, 1986).
time relationships for four types of conduit flow depending upon the influence of
the vadose or phreatic zones. Conceptual classification of a karst aquifer and its
presumed relationship to predominant flow regime are given in Fig. 2 (Atkinson,
1986). The hydrograph shape is formed according to the dominant flow type.
Depending upon the type of flow dominant in a karst aquifer, different
hydrograph shapes can be formed, according to the schematic representation in
Fig. 3. Therein, in addition to the standard hydrological features, it is necessary to
consider also the remaining, so called "natural tracers" such as: water
temperature; suspended sediment; chemical composition of water;
microorganisms in water; water flow velocity; flood pulse; water hardness etc.
Evidently, the general approach to the hydrological regionalization in karst areas
should take into consideration the previously mentioned characteristics, since
only in that case will the regionalization be theoretically founded and applicable in
engineering practice, which represents its final objective.


It has already been stressed that flow processes in karst are more complex


Regionalization in karst regions

100 7 . NETWORK


Fig. 2 (a) Conceptual classification of karst aquifers, and (b)

presumed relationship to predominant flow regime (according to
Atkinson, 1986).

Fig. 3 Different discharges and hardness reaction of: (a)

combined; (b) diffuse and (c) conduit springs to the same
than in other less non-homogeneous media. This fact directly entails a more
cautious and analytic approach to the regionalization of parameters. Thus, it
becomes necessary to use the experience and methods employed by similar
disciplines in the regionalization procedure. It is necessary to cooperate
particularly with geographers, hydrogeologists and geologists; this will be
subsequently explained and justified.

Ognjen Bonacci


Undoubtedly, each hydrological regionalization should be connected with

other scientific and geographical disciplines, with their experience and
conclusions. In regionalization, geographers start the division according to the
lithological composition, depth of the covering layer, tectonic formations,
climate, relief, vegetation and agricultural water demands. Habic (1969)
concludes that:
"Dividing the karst according to river basins is one of the elementary
principles of karst hydrographie regionalization. But as soon as we seek to
make a more detailed division it is more difficult to define limits between
particular catchment and precipitation areas. For hydrologie regionalization we
can consider the quantity of precipitation, the method of water circulation in
various hydrogeologic units, intensity of karst retention, oscillation of
piezometric levels, the character and the depth of rock massif, the specific
runoff, the circuit and the largeness of permanent subterranean water
accumulation etc. For such regionalization a profound knowledge of karst
hydrology and hydrogeology is necessary.
Discussing hydrographie regionalization we may classify the karst according
to the characteristics of the underground water flow into simple and complex
hydrographie units. Simple units are flow off hydrographie regions with a
prevailing runoff of karst water. These include homogeneous units of deep karst
without surface water streams. Transfuse-flow off regions may be ranged into
complex hydrographie regions where pure karst waters mix with surface waters.
Into this group fall karst regions with subsurface inflow and surface outflow which
is characteristic especially of the shallow karst."
An interesting information, related to the general problem of
regionalization, is the hydrogeological differentiation of karst areas in Slovenia
(Yugoslavia) according to Habic (1981): simple outflow, shallow and deep
karst without surface streams; composite outflow, throughflow karst with
sinking streams; karst with alternating surface and underground outflow; and
fluvio karst with partly underground outflow.
Daoxian (1986) developed schematic conceptual models for the
heterogeneity classification presented in Fig. 4. The goal of this classification
has been explained by saying that "people are interested in the possibility of
making predictions for a new area on the basis of a geology-geomorphology
analogue, before expensive engineering explorations are carried out. Planning
of prospecting work should also be made differently in accordance with the
degree of heterogeneity. For a relatively homogeneous area, a network of
prospecting points with more or less uniform distances could be a choice. But
for a heterogeneous area, and particularly an extremely heterogeneous area,
prospecting points are generally scattered irregularly depending on the
preliminary information obtained from geological, geomorphological or
geophysical survey".
The approach, previously presented, clearly points to an additional
problem frequently encountered in regionalization carried out in karst
terrains. It refers to insufficient measurement data for all parameters
(geological, hydrogeological, hydrological and climatological) resulting from
significant heterogeneity of the area. This problem is one of the most
important and most difficult to solve.


Regionalization in karst regions





Fig. 4
Schematic conceptual models for heterogeneity
classification: 1 high yield borehole; 2 poor borehole; 3 pumping
well; 4 karst conduit or cave (according to Daoxian, 1986).
When performing regionalization in karst it should be borne in mind
that the karstification process, i.e. the solution of soluble rocks, is a continual
process which cannot be stopped, so that even the most detailed and reliable
regionalizations are only temporary. The time unit is relatively long when
compared with the human life-time, but it is very short when compared with
the geological time scale. A good linear correlation between magnitude of rain
and dissolution-rate has been observed. According to Garay et al. (1988) the
dissolution rates evaluated for Spanish karst regions vary between 20 and
more than 100 m3 km"2 year"1. The greatest dissolution rates have been
calculated under the humid climate of Papua New Guinea; up to 760 m3 km"2
year"1. The smallest rate is under arid regions, like the rate of 3 m3 km"2
year"1 measured in Salah (Sahara).
Obarti et al. (1988) present a Spanish classification of karst based on
geological features and hydrodynamic behaviour observed in hydrographs of
different system types selected according to their geographical and climatological characteristics. The aim of this classification was to record the
minimum number of data necessary for the evaluation of the input-output
relationship. The authors state that there is a strong connection between

Ognjen Bonacci


facility of flow, karst development degree and karst evaluation.

Chen Zhi Ping (1983) states that temperature and precipitation are both
important in controlling karst zonation in China but temperature is the key
factor involved. China is divided into three karst zones: (a) tropical karst zone
of the south; (b) flat hill-depression area of central China; (c) temperate,
semi-humid zone of north China possessing hilly features and dry valleys.
AH the previously stated facts clearly prove that the hydrological
regionalization in karst is a complex procedure, which is never completely
finished or sufficiently reliable. This, however, does not imply that hydrological
regionalization should not be carried out at all. On the contrary, it is
necessary and more important than in non-karst areas. It is necessary,
however, to select, from the hydrological standpoint, which hydrological,
hydrogeological and/or climatological parameters should be used as the basis
for regionalization. It is important to state whether the regionalization is
performed for low, high or medium water levels: this influences the possible
accuracy and reliability of the regionalization.
In the regionalization process it is important to apply a correct and
adequate methodology. The following statistical methods have proved to be
suitable: analysis of variance; discriminant analysis; cluster analysis; correlation
analysis; factor analysis etc. "White (1976) employs some of these methods to
examine the role of carbonate rocks in modifying flow behaviour in karst
areas in USA. He takes into consideration 17 parameters, out of which two
are flood parameters, eight basin parameters and seven karst parameters. The
main conclusions are: "The initial hypothesis was that carbonate rocks would
have a dampening effect on runoff properties of drainage basins because of
the rapid absorption of surface waters into the underground. Dampening does
take place, but the presence of carbonate rock alone does not automatically
mean there will be clamped floods. The influence of karst is no greater than
the effects of other basin characteristics. An unexpected result was that basins
which contain karst and carbonates have much greater variability than basins
with lesser amounts".
A qualitative and reliable hydrological regionalization is more likely to be
performed if the outflow process can be modelled in an easier and simpler
way. All types of models have been employed in karst terrains, from the
simplest, i.e. statistical models, to the more complex conceptual and lumped
models as well as the most complex physical models or models based upon
dynamic and continuity equations. In karst modelling it is necessary to take
into consideration the occurrence of: (a) fast turbulent conduit flow type and
(b) slow and laminar diffuse flow type.
One of the simplest numerical parameters important for hydrological
regionalization especially in karst, but also in the classical hydrological
situation, is the baseflow index BFI:



Regionalization in karst regions

where W is the total water volume flowing out in a certain period (most
frequently one hydrological or calendar year), Wb is the volume of the
baseflow in the same period. The separation of baseflow performed in order
to define the baseflow index is not a completely denned procedure and thus
it partly depends upon the subjective estimation of the researcher.
for 0 s t < 16



Q{ = 24 e
+ 13.1 e
for 16 S t < 21 ~TTTTTT]


+ 2.9e

o Q o~ 0 2 2 7 1

< , = 0.2310
c 2 - 0.1607


12 K ()

18 20 J 22 24

26 28



3A [ 3 hOUrS ]

Fig. 5 Recession curves for the group of springs on the Neretva

River (Yugoslavia).

The analysis of the recession part of the hydrograph is of special

importance for hydrological regionalization and has been dealt with
theoretically by a great number of researchers. In practical applications the
problem is mainly restricted to the use of Maillet's (1905) formula:
Qt = QQ exp {-at)


where Q is the discharge at instant t, QQ the discharge at start time tQ, a is

the outflow depletion coefficient which varies with the change in the
microregime of the outflow karst massif. The breaks on the recession curve
can be explained by the differences in this microregime. Figure 5 defines the
three-part recession curve for a group of springs on the Neretva River
(Bonacci & Jelin, 1988). Coefficient a is explained in a new way using the
following formula:

a = \/A


where X is the approximate constant coefficient dependent on system

characteristics, A is the area of the underground and surface reservoir from

Ognjen Bonacci


which the emptying through the analysed system of springs takes place. Thus
it is possible to introduce into Maillet's formula, in addition to the transport
characteristics of karst, also the influence of the storage features which change
in time and space.
Obarti et al. (1988) regionalized karst in Spain according to the outflow
depletion coefficient. They conclude: "There can be found in the same region
and subjected to equal environmental patterns, systems with short time
response to rain (memory effect and response time smaller than 10-15 days)
and fast depletion curves (oc > 10"2) corresponding to well developed karst
systems in the neighbourhood of others distinguished by inertial behaviours
(memory effect greater than two months and depletion coefficient smaller
than 10"2), representative of systems with difficult flow due to low functional
karstification degree. There must be taken into account other important
variables like system size, existence of outside aquifer runoff surpluses (binary
systems), possible palaeokarst activation
Although global karstification
degree is low (in drainage organisation sense), local karstification is a fact".
This paper includes equations of numerous researchers from the entire
world, and it can be said with great certainty that their conclusions do not
refer exclusively to the particular region they analysed, but to karst in
Hydrological regionalization in karst is much more complex and less reliable
than regionalization in non-karst terrains. Before hydrological regionalization is
undertaken, a number of preliminary systematic activities should be carried
out. Firstly, it is necessary to define the exact criteria and measurements
related to the regionalization. The selection of parameters for hydrological
regionalization is an especially sensitive problem.
The parameters do not have to be exclusively hydrological. Furthermore,
it is necessary to employ parameters which, according to their nature, belong
to other scientific disciplines. This primarily refers to the geographical,
geological, hydrogeological and climatological parameters. Qualitative and
reliable hydrological regionalization, as well as other types of regionalizations,
is negatively affected by a very direct interaction between surface water and
groundwater. Obviously, the procedure of hydrological regionalization cannot
be solved by hydrologists alone. It is a typically interactive process which
implies close cooperation between researchers from various disciplines.
Insufficient collaboration might be the main reason why hydrological
regionalization in karst has not been more successful so far. It is not an
overstatement to say that the problems of selecting the representative
regionalization parameters has not been solved up to the present time either
from the theoretical or from the practical standpoint. The same applies to the
modelling of the runoff processes in karst.
More reliable results related to hydrological regionalization in karst have
been obtained for low water levels, whereas for medium, and particularly for
high water levels there have not been any improvements. It is relatively easy


Regionalization in karst regions

to explain this fact. At low water levels there exists only one flow type, i.e.
slow laminar diffuse flow. Therefore, it is easier to regionalize the parameters
for this flow due to its main characteristic, i.e. inertia.
Evidently, the hydrological regionalization in karst should strictly
consider the occurrence of two completely different flow types: diffuse and
conduit flow. Further hydrological regionalizations should probably be
oriented towards the definition of particular hydrological and regional
parameters for both of the flow types.
As a final point it should be mentioned that the reliability and time
duration of regionalization are greatly affected by human activities. The
construction of one, not particularly large reservoir in karst, can bring about a
complete change in the hydrological regime (Bonacci, 1987). This problem,
which has become acute, should not be ignored in making attempts to
regionalize the hydrological parameters in the karst areas.
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(ed. by P. G. Fookes & P. R. Vaughan), 241-257. Survey University Press.
Bonacci, O. (1987) Karst Hydrology. Springer Verlag.
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and Karst Environment Protection (Proc. IAH 21st Congress, Guilin, China, October
1988), vol. 2, 606-611. IAHS Publ. no. 176.
Bonacci, O. & Jelin, J. (1988) Identification of the karst hydrological system. Example of
Dinario karst (Yugoslavia). Hydrol. Sci. J. 33 (5), 483-497.
Chen Zhi Ping (1983) Karst zonation in China. In: New Directions in Karst (ed. by K.
Paterson & M. M. Sweeting), 591-596. Geo Books, Norwich, UK.
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