How Closed are Closed Lakes in Rifts? Significance of Hydraulic Gradients for the Budgets of Paleo-Lakes in East Africa

Olaka, L. A. (2015).  How Closed are Closed Lakes in Rifts? Significance of Hydraulic Gradients for the Budgets of Paleo-Lakes in East Africa. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2015. , December 2015, San Fransisco

Date Presented:

December 2015


The hydrogeology of rift lakes is complex due to the potential influence of faults and porous volcanic and volcanoclastic media on groundwater flow. We conducted a comprehensive study that integrated geological and hydrogeological data as well as the application of a linear decay model to estimate the groundwater flow between the two of the best-studied lake systems in East Africa, the adjacent Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru- Elmenteita in the Central Kenya Rift. Whereas both lake basins host relatively shallow lakes today, paleo-shorelines and sediments suggest >100 m deep lakes during a wetter climate during the Early Holocene during the so-called African Humid Period. Stable isotope data show variations form highly depleted to more enriched d18O waters. The linear-reservoir depletion model simulates the decline of the Early Holocene lakes in both basins to the modern levels. The altitude difference of ca. 100 m of both paleo-lake levels enables us to estimate the duration of the groundwater decline and the connectivity of the two basins via the Eburru/Gilgil barrier. The results suggest a decline of the groundwater levels during ca. 5 kyrs if there is no recharge, and between 2-2.7 kyrs based on the modern recharge of 0.52 m/yr as the end members of the delay time introduced by subsurface water flow to the hydrology of the lake system. The latter value suggests that ca. 40.95 cubic kilometres of water flowed from Lake Naivasha to Nakuru- Elmenteita at maximum lake level in the Early Holocene following the hydraulic gradient concurrent to the topographic slope. The unexpectedly large volume, more than half of the volume of the paleo-Lake Naivasha during the Early Holocene, emphasizes the importance of groundwater in hydrological modelling of paleo-lakes in rifts. Moreover, the subsurface connectivity of rift lakes also causes a significant lag time to the system introducing a nonlinear component to the system that has to be considered while interpreting paleo-lake records.

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