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Andrieux P., Voltz M. and A. Durbec (1996) Hydrological Processes on a Sedimentary Interfluve of the Old Coastal Plain in French Guyana. Rev. Sci. Eau 9 (1) : 51-74. [article in French]

Original title: Fonctionnement hydrologique d'un interfluve sédimentaire de la plaine côtière ancienne de Guyane française.

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The hydrological behaviour of the old coastal plain in French Guyana causes intense soil waterlogging, which is a major constraint to the agricultural development of this area. The old coastal plain presents a succession of similar old offshore bars (Fig. 1). To elucidate the factors affecting groundwater fluctuations in the plain, the hydrological behaviour of one typical bar was studied. This paper presents the results of the survey of the bar and of the identification of groundwater recharge by inverse modelling. It also investigates the relationships between the spatial variability of recharge rates, the topography, and the soil distribution over the bar to provide means for extrapolation to the whole plain.

A bar, covering 0.16 km², was chosen for the present study (Fig. 2). The maximum relief of the bar is 5 m and its general elevation lies between 2 and 7 m above sea level. The bar is drained by two convergent thalwegs. An important lateral and vertical soil differentiation was observed over a depth of approximately 1 m. Four main soil types (FAO/UNESCO classification) were identified at specific positions on the bar: podzols on the top, ferralsols on the upper slope, alluvial gleysols on the thalwegs and planosolic soils on the mid slope and between ferralsols and podzols. Ferralsols exhibit a progressive increase of clay content with increasing depth. The other soil types present sandy horizons with an irregular textural discontinuity (TD) located at a depth of 70 to 100 cm. Underneath the textural discontinuity lies a sandy clay marine alluvium, which is heterogeneous, ferrallitized and hydromorphic, with lenses of sand and clay. An impervious clay layer (NI) occurs at the base of the bar at an average height of 2 m above sea level. The climate is equatorial and has two marked seasons, wet and dry. Rain is mostly confined to the period November-July, but with a maximum from May to July. Mean annual rainfall is 2700 mm.

A network of 21 piezometers was set up at the various topographic and pedological situations (Fig. 3). Six sampling sites were also equipped with tensiometers and access tubes for neutron probes. Groundwater monitoring lasted for three years from 1983 to 1986. The variability of soil hydraulic conductivity over the bar was measured by the auger hole method at the intersections of a 50 m square grid and at 25 m away from a few such intersections. A geostatistical analysis was performed and kriged maps of hydraulic conductivity were produced (Figs. 4 and 5). The comparison between the kriged maps and the soil map indicates that ferralsols exhibit higher conductivities than the other soils.

Groundwater monitoring showed three main points. First, a fast response of groundwater fluctuations to rainfall was observed on the bar, which suggests that the hydrology of the bar is little influenced by contributions from neighbouring bars or from the Precambrian basement situated upgradient. Second, time length of soil saturation varied markedly over the bar and was related to the soil types (Fig. 7). Lastly, the observed spatial variability of the hydraulic conductivities and the evolution of water table levels indicate the possibility of a variable distribution of recharge over the bar.

The deterministic flow model used for this study, WATASI (WAter TAble SImulation, Wolsack, 1982) is based on a Darcy-Dupuit hydraulic schematization. It is an integrated finite element and multilayer groundwater model with square cells of variable size. Here, three layers were considered: one representing the topsoil, from surface to the textural discontinuity, the second representing the sandy clayey alluvium, lying over the impervious layer, and the third representing the thalwegs surrounding the interfluve (Fig. 10). All layers were divided into cells whose length was either 25 m or 50 m. For the purpose of recharge identification, according to the results of the survey, the cells were grouped in six zones of homogeneous slope and soil type, with each zone assumed to exhibit constant recharge. Calibration of the parameters of the model and identification of recharge over the six zones were conducted over three periods, one exhibiting steady state flow and the two others transient flow, by minimizing the difference between the measured and simulated hydraulic heads. The results obtained by the simulation approach are:

  • No assumption of lateral inflow is necessary to simulate properly the evolution of hydraulic heads (Figs. 11 and 13); thus groundwater recharge only originates from the seepage of rainfall through the soil cover of the bar.
  • The spatial variability of recharge appears to follow firstly the slope distribution, and secondly the soil distribution: zones of high recharge correspond to zones of limited waterlogging and vice versa (Figs. 12 and 14).
  • The estimated rates of recharge are small in comparison to rainfall, and soil water budget calculations demonstrate the existence of large runoff rates.

It can be concluded that the waterlogging of soils on the old coastal plain is mainly caused by the hydrological processes at the scale of each bar. Thus, for improving the agricultural suitability of the soils on the plain, local drainage of the waterlogged soils should be sufficient. To predict over the plain which zones should be drained, information on topography and soil distribution can be used as there are good correlations between the variability of these parameters and the variability in groundwater recharge and water table depths.


Soil, hydraulic head, hydraulic conductivity, hydrological modeling, groundwater recharge, runoff, French Guyana.

Corresponding author

P Andrieux, INRA, Laboratoire de Science du Sol, 2 place Viala, 34060 Montpellier Cedex 1, FRANCE

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Update: 2006-12-19
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