Tracer Hydrology and Flow Systems Analysis

In this course, participants will learn how to map recharge and discharge areas, how to combine flow field, hydrochemical data, and isotopic data into one comprehensive hydrological systems analysis.

For whom?

This course is meant for hydrolo(geo)logists with a proper understanding of environmental chemical processes, geology and groundwater flow phenomena.


Approved BSc degree and basic hydraulics/hydrology, earth sciences, hydrogeology, and water quality.

Learning objectives

Upon completion, the participant should be able to:
  1. describe the main concepts of tracer hydrology, with emphasis on artificial tracers and environmental isotopes.
  2. analyse and solve tracer hydrological problems and questions using different techniques and analytical tools.
  3. derive and describe hydrosomes from (combinations of) hydrochemical facies to assess characteritics of groundwater flow systems.
  4. integrate geology, flow field, isotope data and hydrochemistry into a comprehensive analysis of groundwater flow systems for different hydro-climatic regions and geological conditions.

Course content

The content of this short course consists of two parts: 'Flow Systems Analysis' and 'Tracer Hydrology'.

Flow Systems Analysis (Foppen)

  • Introduction: definitions, use of Systems Analysis in practice, examples;
  • Characteristics of the natural flow field: Toth’s description of Groundwater Flow Systems;
  • Hydrochemical Facies Analysis: Defining the facies and classification of water types, indexes and temperature, identification of groundwater origin, mapping and interpretation;
  • Spreadsheet exercises and introduction to HYCA software.

Tracer Hydrology (Uhlenbrook)

This course treats different methods to analyse and assess hydrological flow systems. Special attention will be given to hydro-chemical and tracer hydrological approaches to delineate flow systems and understanding flow patterns in the environment. The use of tracer techniques will illustrate the determination of flow pathways, residence times of the water, the hydraulic properties of flow systems and the mixing of different water compartments. The learning objectives will be achieved through class lectures explaining background and methodologies, practical application exercises, which are to be worked out as assignments, and group exercises.

Course materials

  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Isotope Hydrology, CD-Rom, 2005
  • Foppen, J-W., Regional Hydrological Systems Analysis, Lecture notes, 2008
  • Uhlenbrook, S., Tracer Hydrology, IHE Delft, Lecture notes, 2006

Additional reading

  • Kendall, C., McDonnell J.J., Isotopes in catchment hydrology, Elsevier, 1998
  • Kaess, W., Tracing techniques in geohydrology, Balkema, 2001
  • Hornberger, G.M., Raffensperger, J.P., Wiberg, P.L. and Eshleman, K.N., Elements of physical hydrology, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1998
  • Dingman, S.L., Physical hydrology, 2nd ed., Prentice-Hall, 2002
  • Engelen, G.B. and F.H. Kloosterman, 1996. Hydrological systems analysis, methods and applications. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996



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