Exploring water cycle dynamics by sampling multiple stable water isotope pools in a developed landscape in Germany
- 1Institute for Landscape Ecology and Resources Management (ILR), Research Centre for BioSystems, Land Use and Nutrition (iFZ), Justus Liebig University Gießen, Gießen, Germany
- 2Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
- 3Centre for International Development and Environmental Research, Justus Liebig University Gießen, Gießen, Germany
Abstract. A dual stable water isotope (δ2H and δ18O) study was conducted in the developed (managed) landscape of the Schwingbach catchment (Germany). The 2-year weekly to biweekly measurements of precipitation, stream, and groundwater isotopes revealed that surface and groundwater are isotopically disconnected from the annual precipitation cycle but showed bidirectional interactions between each other. Apparently, snowmelt played a fundamental role for groundwater recharge explaining the observed differences to precipitation δ values.
A spatially distributed snapshot sampling of soil water isotopes at two soil depths at 52 sampling points across different land uses (arable land, forest, and grassland) revealed that topsoil isotopic signatures were similar to the precipitation input signal. Preferential water flow paths occurred under forested soils, explaining the isotopic similarities between top- and subsoil isotopic signatures. Due to human-impacted agricultural land use (tilling and compression) of arable and grassland soils, water delivery to the deeper soil layers was reduced, resulting in significant different isotopic signatures. However, the land use influence became less pronounced with depth and soil water approached groundwater δ values. Seasonally tracing stable water isotopes through soil profiles showed that the influence of new percolating soil water decreased with depth as no remarkable seasonality in soil isotopic signatures was obvious at depths > 0.9 m and constant values were observed through space and time. Since classic isotope evaluation methods such as transfer-function-based mean transit time calculations did not provide a good fit between the observed and calculated data, we established a hydrological model to estimate spatially distributed groundwater ages and flow directions within the Vollnkirchener Bach subcatchment. Our model revealed that complex age dynamics exist within the subcatchment and that much of the runoff must has been stored for much longer than event water (average water age is 16 years). Tracing stable water isotopes through the water cycle in combination with our hydrological model was valuable for determining interactions between different water cycle components and unravelling age dynamics within the study area. This knowledge can further improve catchment-specific process understanding of developed, human-impacted landscapes.