The Stable Isotopic and Anionic Composition of the Avon and Heathcote River Systems, Christchurch, New Zealand: a study of lowland spring-fed rivers in a seismically active environment
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The Avon and Heathcote Rivers, located in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, are lowland spring-fed rivers linked with the Christchurch Groundwater System. At present, the flow paths and recharge sources to the Christchurch Groundwater System are not fully understood. Study of both the Avon and Heathcote Rivers can provide greater insight into this system. In addition, during the period 2010-2012, Christchurch has experienced large amounts of seismic activity, including a devastating Mw 6.2 aftershock on February 22nd, 2011, which caused widespread damage and loss of life. Associated with these earthquakes was the release of large amounts of water through liquefaction and temporary springs throughout the city. This provided a unique opportunity to study groundwater surface water interactions following a large scale seismic event. Presented herein is the first major geochemical study on the Avon and Heathcote Rivers and the hydrological impact of the February 22, 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. The Avon, Heathcote, and Waimakariri Rivers were sampled in quarterly periods starting in July 2011 and analyzed for stable Isotopes δ¹⁸O, δD, and δ¹³C and major anion composition. In addition, post -earthquake samples were collected over the days immediately following the February 22, 2011 earthquake and analyzed for stable isotopes δ¹⁸O and δD and major anion composition. A variety of analytical methods were used identify the source of the waters in the Avon-Heathcote System and evaluate the effectiveness of stable isotopes as geochemical tracers in the Christchurch Groundwater System. The results of this thesis found that the waters from the Avon and Heathcote Rivers are geochemically the same, originating from groundwater, and exhibit a strong tidal influence within 5km of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. The surface waters released following the February 22nd, 2011 earthquake were indistinguishable from quarterly samples taken from the Avon and Heathcote Rivers when comparing stable isotopic composition. The anion data suggests the waters released following the February 22nd, 2011 Christchurch Earthquake were sourced primarily from shallow groundwater, and also suggests a presence of urban sewage at some sites. Attempts to estimate recharge sources for the Avon-Heathcote Rivers using published models for the Christchurch Groundwater System yielded results that were not consistent between models. In evaluating the use of geochemical constituents as tracers in the Christchurch Groundwater System, no one isotope could provide a clear resolution, but when used in conjunction, δ¹⁸O, δ¹³C, and DIC, seem to be the most effective tracers. Sample sizes for δ¹³C were too small for a robust evaluation. Variability on the Waimakariri River appears to be greater than previously estimated, which could have significant impacts on geochemical models for the Christchurch Groundwater System. This research demonstrates the value of using multiple geochemical constituents to enrich our understanding of the groundwater surfaces-water interactions and the Christchurch Groundwater System as a whole.