Controls on the temporal and spatial variability of soil moisture in a mountainous landscape: the signature of snow and complex terrain
- 1Northwest Watershed Research Center, USDA – Agricultural Research Service, Boise, ID, USA
- 2Department of Geosciences, Boise State University, Boise, ID, USA
- 3Department of Civil Engineering, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA
Abstract. The controls on the spatial distribution of soil moisture include static and dynamic variables. The superposition of static and dynamic controls can lead to different soil moisture patterns for a given catchment during wetting, draining, and drying periods. These relationships can be further complicated in snow-dominated mountain regions where soil water input by precipitation is largely dictated by the spatial variability of snow accumulation and melt. In this study, we assess controls on spatial and temporal soil moisture variability in a small (0.02 km2), snow-dominated, semi-arid catchment by evaluating spatial correlations between soil moisture and site characteristics through different hydrologic seasons. We assess the relative importance of snow with respect to other catchment properties on the spatial variability of soil moisture and track the temporal persistence of those controls. Spatial distribution of snow, distance from divide, soil texture, and soil depth exerted significant control on the spatial variability of moisture content throughout most of the hydrologic year. These relationships were strongest during the wettest period and degraded during the dry period. As the catchment cycled through wet and dry periods, the relative spatial variability of soil moisture tended to remain unchanged. We suggest that the static properties in complex terrain (slope, aspect, soils) impose first order controls on the spatial variability of snow and resulting soil moisture patterns, and that the interaction of dynamic (timing of water input) and static influences propagate that relative constant spatial variability through most of the hydrologic year. The results demonstrate that snow exerts significant influence on how water is retained within mid-elevation semi-arid catchments and suggest that reductions in annual snowpacks associated with changing climate regimes may strongly influence spatial and temporal soil moisture patterns and catchment physical and biological processes.