Hydrochemical and Isotopic Difference of Spring Water Depending on Flow Type in a Stratigraphically Complex Karst Area of South Korea

Soonyoung Yu, Gitak Chae, Junseop Oh, Se Hoon Kim, Dong Il Kim, Seong Taek Yun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Characterizing the subsurface flow in karstic areas is challenging due to distinct flow paths coexisting, and lithologic heterogeneity makes it more difficult. A combined use of hydrochemical, environmental isotopic, and hydrograph separation study was performed to understand the subsurface flow in a karst terrain where Ordovician carbonate rocks overlie Jurassic sandstone and shale along thrusts. Spring water collected was divided into Type Ⅰ (n = 11) and Ⅱ (n = 30) based on flow patterns (i.e., low and high discharge, respectively). In addition, groundwater (n = 20) was examined for comparison. Three Type Ⅱ springs were additionally collected during a storm event to construct hydrographs using δ18O and δD. As a result, Type Ⅱ had higher electrical conductivity, Mg2+, HCO3, and Ca2+/(Na+ + K+) than Type Ⅰ and was mostly saturated with calcite, similar to deep groundwater. The hydrochemical difference between Types Ⅰ and Ⅱ was opposite to the expectation that Type Ⅱ would be undersaturated given fast flow and small storage, which could be explained by the distinct geology and water sources. Most Type Ⅱ springs and deep groundwater occurred in carbonate rocks, whereas Type Ⅰ and shallow groundwater occurred in various geological settings. The carbonate rocks seemed to provide conduit flow paths for Type Ⅱ given high solubility and faults, resulting in 1) relatively high tritium and NO3 and Cl via short-circuiting flow paths and 2) the similar hydrochemistry and δ18O and δD to deep groundwater via upwelling from deep flow paths. The deep groundwater contributed to 83–87% of the discharge at three Type Ⅱ springs in the dry season. In contrast, Type Ⅰ showed low Ca2+ + Mg2+ and Ca2+/(Na+ + K+) discharging diffuse sources passing through shallow depths in a matrix in mountain areas. Delayed responses to rainfall and the increased concentrations of contaminants (e.g., NO3) during a typhoon at Type Ⅱ implied storage in the vadose zone. This study shows that hydrochemical and isotopic investigations are effective to characterize flow paths, when combined with hydrograph separation because the heterogenous geology affects both flow paths and the hydrochemistry of spring water passing through each pathway.

Original languageEnglish
Article number712865
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug 24

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The initiation of this work was funded by the Hyundai Engineering Co. as a part of a site investigation for a dam in 1999–2000. The completion of this work was supported by the Korea Ministry of Environment (MOE) as the “Korea-CO2 Storage Environmental Management (K-COSEM) Research Program.” The first author was also supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MEST) (No. 2019R1A2C1084297).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Yu, Chae, Oh, Kim, Kim and Yun.


  • flow type
  • geological heterogeneity
  • hydrochemistry
  • hydrograph separation
  • karstic spring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrochemical and Isotopic Difference of Spring Water Depending on Flow Type in a Stratigraphically Complex Karst Area of South Korea'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this