Programme  OS1d Tropical zones  abstract 599

Delineation of superficial alluvial aquifers using DEM geoprocessing : application to semi-arid northeast Brazil

Author(s): Pascal Kosuth, Guilhem Daly(1), Christian Feau(2), Julien Burte (3), Edouardo Savio Martins(3)
(1) Cemagref, UMR TETIS (Cemagref – CIRAD – ENGREF AGROPARISTECH), Maison de la Télédétection, 500 rue Jean-François Breton, 34093 Montpellier, Cedex 5 France ; Tel. (33) 04 67 54 87 54 ; Fax (33) 04 76 54 87 00 ; email :;

Keyword(s): Aquifer, DEM, geoprocessing, Brazil, hydrology, alluvial

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Session: OS1d Tropical zones
AbstractWater stored in superficial alluvial aquifers

of northeast Brazil (Nordeste Brasileiro) represent valuable resources for rural populations : it can be used for

community and family water supply, for cattle water supply and for small farm irrigation. However, this water

resource is still under-used and poorly known both in terms of its geographic distribution, extension and storage

capacity, and in terms of its spatio-temporal dynamics under the coupled influence of natural processes (climate,

hydrodynamics) and human activities (water extraction, upstream storage in reservoirs, land cover


The objective of this work was to develop a method for the delineation of these superficial alluvial

aquifers, in order to provide a reliable basis for their inventory, characterization, analysis and further


The method is based on the geoprocessing of Digital Elevation Models (DEM) guided by the

geomorphological properties of these aquifers : mainly flat areas along the river network. It has been designed,

developed, tested and tuned on a pilot area, the rio Forquilha river basin (221 km²; 5°17’ S, 39°30’ W) and further

implemented on the overall rio Banabuiu river basin (14244 km²; 5°20’ S, 38°55’ W). Geoprocessing of the DEM

allows to delineate the basin hydrographic network, and establish a buffer zone around it, whose size depends, for

each river network segment, on the upstream watershed area and on the river longitudinal and lateral slopes.

Superficial alluvial aquifer limits are then extracted from within the buffer zone based on a maximum slope


The method allowed to quantify the pilot area aquifer (Forquilha river alluvial aquifer : area 0.59

km²) with a spatial accuracy that was evaluated as very satisfactory taking into account both the uncertainty on the

data (SRTM DEM; in situ delineation) and the objective of the study (aquifer inventory at regional scale).

Implementation on the Banabuiu river basin led to a primary estimation of the superficial alluvial aquifer area of 60

km², distributed amongst more than 60 different aquifers. The corresponding water storage capacity was estimated

to be ~36 Mm3, which can be compared to the mean annual surface runoff (36mm/year, i.e. 513 Mm3) and the

reservoir storage capacity (2000 Mm3) on the basin.

Current limitations of the method appear in flat lowland

areas where aquifer area tends to be overestimated. Further works are addressing the use of remote sensing both to

help in a more precise delineation of these aquifers and to analyse associated water and land use.

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