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The Leoganger Steinberge are a heavily karstified massif largely composed of Dachstein dolomite and limestone hosting the deepest through-trip cave in the world, Lamprechtsofen, whose frontal parts are developed as a show cave. Many parts of this 60 km-long and 1724 m-deep system are hydrologically active. 1.5 km behind the lower cave entrance Grüntopf stream and Kneippklamm stream merge to form the main cave stream. Another underground stream, Stainerhallen stream, flows through the eponymous hall of the show cave. Since 2007 water temperature, electrical conductivity and water level have been monitored in the Grüntopf and Kneippklamm stream. Water temperature and water level in the Stainerhallen and main cave stream have been measured since 2016.
The long-term dataset (2013–2017) shows that the water temperature of the cave streams (Grüntopf stream: 3.7–5.2°C; Kneippklamm stream: 5.1–5.9°C) is largely invariant, but the electrical conductivity varies strongly (Grüntopf stream: 107–210 µS/cm; Kneippklamm stream: 131–248 µS/cm) in response to snowmelt and precipitation events. The event water of the Kneippklamm stream is characterized by a low electrical conductivity and is then followed by slightly warmer and higher mineralized water derived from the phreatic zone. This dual flow pattern also explains the asymmetrical changes of the water level during snowmelt: the fast event water flows directly through vadose pathways to the measurement site, whereas the hydraulic (phreatic) response is delayed. The Grüntopf stream reacts to precipitation and snowmelt events by changes in the karst-water table, which can be explained by a piston flow-model. The Kneippklamm stream reveals evidence of a lifter system.
The altitude of the catchments was calculated using δ18O values of water samples from the underground streams and from surface precipitation. The Grüntopf stream shows the highest mean catchment (2280 m a.s.l.), which is in agreement with its daily fluctuations of the water level until August caused by long-lasting snowmelt. The Stainerhallen stream has the lowest catchment (average 1400 m a.s.l.). The catchments of the other two streams are at intermediate elevations (1770–1920 m a.s.l.). The integration of the catchment analyses and observations from tracer tests conducted in the 1970s showed that the latter reflected only one aspect of the karst water regime in this massif. During times of high recharge the water level rises, new flow paths are activated and the karst watershed shifts.
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