Factors influencing stream baseflow transit times in tropical montane watersheds
- 1Centro de Ciencias de la Atmósfera, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Ciudad de México, México
- 2Instituto de Ecología, A. C., Red de Ecología Funcional, Xalapa, Veracruz, México
- 3Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
- 4School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
Abstract. Stream water mean transit time (MTT) is a fundamental hydrologic parameter that integrates the distribution of sources, flow paths, and storages present in catchments. However, in the tropics little MTT work has been carried out, despite its usefulness for providing important information on watershed functioning at different spatial scales in (largely) ungauged basins. In particular, very few studies have quantified stream MTTs or have related these to catchment characteristics in tropical montane regions. Here we examined topographic, land use/cover and soil hydraulic controls on baseflow transit times for nested catchments (0.1–34 km2) within a humid mountainous region, underlain by volcanic soil (Andisols) in central Veracruz (eastern Mexico). We used a 2-year record of bi-weekly isotopic composition of precipitation and stream baseflow data to estimate MTT. Land use/cover and topographic parameters (catchment area and form, drainage density, slope gradient and length) were derived from geographic information system (GIS) analysis. Soil water retention characteristics, and depth and permeability of the soil–bedrock interface were obtained from intensive field measurements and laboratory analysis. Results showed that baseflow MTTs ranged between 1.2 and 2.7 years across the 12 study catchments. Overall, MTTs across scales were mainly controlled by catchment slope and the permeability observed at the soil–bedrock interface. In association with topography, catchment form and the depth to the soil–bedrock interface were also identified as important features influencing baseflow MTTs. The greatest differences in MTTs were found both within groups of small (0.1–1.5 km2) and large (14–34 km2) catchments. Interestingly, the longest stream MTTs were found in the headwater cloud forest catchments.