A regional-scale groundwater model supporting management of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and its catchment, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Bibi Ruth Neuman Gondwe, G. Merediz Alonso, M. Rebolledo Vieyra, L. Marin, R. Supper, Peter Bauer-Gottwein

    Research output: Contribution to journalConference abstract in journalResearch


    The Caribbean Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula is a rapidly developing area featuring a booming tourism industry. The number of hotel rooms in the Riviera Maya has increased from 2600 in 1996 to 26,000 in 2005, while the total population in the Mexican federal state of Quintana Roo has grown from 500,000 in 1990 to 1,115,000 in 2005. This explosive growth threatens the region's water resources, which primarily consist of a less than 50m thick freshwater lens residing in the regional karst aquifer underlying the entire Yucatan Peninsula. The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a 6400 km2 combined marine/terrestrial nature protection area is situated south of Tulum (approx. 87.3° - 88° W, 19° - 20° N). The site is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and is protected under the Ramsar Convention. It includes extensive freshwater wetlands, saline/brackish mangrove swamps, tropical rainforests and parts of the world's second largest coral reef. The freshwater supply to the system occurs primarily via subsurface inflow. Large freshwater springs emerge through vertical sinkholes (cenotes) in the lagoons of Sian Ka'an. Management of this unique ecosystem in view of the rapid development and urbanization of the surrounding areas requires detailed knowledge on the groundwater flow paths in and around the reserve. Moreover, mapping and delineation of its groundwater catchment zone and groundwater traveling time zones is essential. To this end, a regional-scale steady-state groundwater flow model of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere reserve and its catchment was developed. The model is implemented in MIKE SHE with a finite-difference cell size of 1 km2 and is driven with temporally averaged climate forcings. The karst aquifer is treated as an equivalent porous medium. Darcy's law is assumed to be valid over regional scales and the main structural elements of the karst aquifer are included in the model as zones of varying hydraulic conductivity. High conductivity zones in the Sian Ka'an catchment area were identified from existing geological maps and remote sensing data. Selected high conductivity zones were surveyed using geophysical techniques (EM-34, multi-electrode profiling) to confirm their existence on the ground. Modeled groundwater catchment zones and groundwater traveling times to Sian Ka'an were shown to sensitively depend on the location and parameterization of the high conductivity zones. In order to target groundwater and wetland protection efforts, regional-scale mapping of the aquifer structure using airborne geophysical techniques is recommended.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEOS Transactions AGU
    Issue number23 - Jt. Assem. Suppl.
    Publication statusPublished - 2007
    EventJoint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) - San Francisco, CA, United States
    Duration: 10 Dec 200714 Dec 2007


    ConferenceJoint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union (AGU)
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CitySan Francisco, CA
    Internet address

    Bibliographical note

    Abstract H51F-05


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