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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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  01 Apr 2020

01 Apr 2020

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Linking groundwater travel times to stream chemistry, isotopic composition and catchment characteristics

Elin Jutebring Sterte1,2, Fredrik Lidman1, Emma Lindborg2, Ylva Sjöberg3, and Hjalmar Laudon1 Elin Jutebring Sterte et al.
  • 1Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-901 83 Umeå, Sweden
  • 2DHI Sweden AB, Svartmangatan 18, SE-111 29 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 10, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

Abstract. Understanding travel times of rain and snowmelt inputs transported through the subsurface environment to recipient surface waters is critical in many hydrological and biogeochemical investigations. In this study, a particle tracking model approach in Mike SHE was used to investigating the travel time of stream groundwater input to 14 partly nested, long-term monitored boreal sub-catchments. Based on previous studies in the area, we hypothesized that the main factor controlling groundwater travel times was catchment size. The modeled mean travel time (MTT) in the different sub-catchments ranged between 0.5 years and 3.6 years. Estimated MTTs were tested against the observed long-term winter isotopic signature (δ2H, δ18O) and chemistry (base cation concentration and pH) of the stream water. The underlying assumption was that older water would have an isotopic signature that resembles the long-term average precipitation input, while seasonal variations would be more apparent in catchments with younger water. Similarly, it was assumed that older water would be more affected by weathering, resulting in higher concentrations of base cations and higher pH. 10-year average winter values for stream chemistry were used for each sub-catchment. We found significant correlations between the estimated travel times and average water isotope signature (r = 0.80, p < 0.001 for δ18O; r = 0.81, p < 0.001 for δ2H). We also found a strong correlation between MTT and base cation concentration (r = 0.77, p < 0.001) and pH of the streams (r = 0.54, p < 0.01), which strengthened the credibility of the model. There was no statistical correlation between catchment size and MTT of groundwater, hence refuting our hypothesis. Instead, one landscape characteristic, low conductive sediments, were found to be most influential. Its areal proportion was found to positively affect MTT.

Elin Jutebring Sterte et al.

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Elin Jutebring Sterte et al.

Elin Jutebring Sterte et al.


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