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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  16 Mar 2020

16 Mar 2020

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A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Seasonally varied hillslope and groundwater contributions to streamflow in a glacial till and fractured sedimentary bedrock dominated Rocky Mountain watershed

Sheena A. Spencer1, Axel E. Anderson1,2, Uldis Silins1, and Adrian L. Collins3 Sheena A. Spencer et al.
  • 1Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, T6G 2G7, Canada
  • 2Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Government of Alberta, Edmonton, T5K 1E4, Canada
  • 3Sustainable Agriculture Sciences, Rothamsted Research, North Wyke, Okehampton, EX20 2SB, United Kingdom

Abstract. Whereas a lack of streamflow response to significant forest disturbance (e.g., forestry, wildfire, and insect infestation) has been observed at multiple locations in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a region with sedimentary bedrock overlain by glacial till, mechanisms governing this lack of change remain unclear. Some inferences can be drawn from conceptualizations of runoff generation (e.g., runoff thresholds and hydrologic connectivity) in physically similar watersheds, although much of the focus has been on rainfall-runoff dynamics. Thus, there is a need to describe runoff generation in this snow-dominated area to interpret how forest disturbance may impact streamflow quantity for downstream users. Stream water and source water (snow, rain, hillslope groundwater, till groundwater, bedrock groundwater and seeps) were sampled in four sub-watersheds (Star West Lower, Star West Upper, Star East Lower and Star East Upper) in Star Creek, SW Alberta. Principal component analysis was used to determine the relative dominance and timing of source water contributions to streamflow over the 2014 and 2015 hydrologic seasons. An initial displacement of old water stored in the hillslope over winter occurred at the onset of snowmelt, before the stream responded significantly. This was followed by a dilution effect as snowmelt saturated the landscape, recharged groundwater, and connected the hillslope to the stream. Fall baseflows were dominated by either hillslope groundwater or bedrock groundwater in Star West. Conversely, in Star East, stream water was similar to hillslope water in August but was unlike the measured sources in September and October. Temperature and chemical signatures of groundwater seeps suggest highly complex subsurface flow pathways. Hydrologic resilience in the Rocky Mountain eastern slopes may be, in part, due to these complex subsurface pathways in combination with the slow release of groundwater from glacial till.

Sheena A. Spencer et al.

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Sheena A. Spencer et al.

Sheena A. Spencer et al.


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Latest update: 28 Sep 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
We used unique chemical signatures of precipitation, hillslope soil water, and groundwater sources of streamflow to explore seasonal variation in runoff generation of a snow-dominated mountain watershed underlain by glacial till and permeable bedrock. Complex subsurface flow pathways and temporally delayed or dis-synchronous delivery of subsurface storage pools are likely important factors regulating hydrologic resilience to disturbance observed in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
We used unique chemical signatures of precipitation, hillslope soil water, and groundwater...