Three years of continuous and discrete sediment and water quality data, from four forested, mountain, headwater catchments in the Sierra Nevada, is used to identify water sources, determine the importance of sub-surface flow pathways, detect any changes in source waters due to seasonal variation or drought, and link flow pathways with observed patterns of in-channel sediment movement within the study watersheds. Patterns in stream chemistry and turbidity point to infiltration as the dominant flow pathway within these catchments. Data support a flow pathway conceptual model in which precipitation water infiltrates into the shallow or deeper subsurface, increasing the hydraulic head of the water table and pushing pre-event water into the stream ahead of event water. Study catchments contain perennial streams and are characterized by a Mediterranean climate with a distinct wet and dry season. Sites are located in the rain-snow transition zone with snow making up 40 to 60 percent of average annual precipitation. Barring human disturbances such as logging/grazing (compaction) or fire (hydrophobicity), catchment soils have high infiltration capacities. Springs and seeps maintain baseflow during the summer low-flow season, and shifting chemical signals within the streams indicate the increased importance of sub-surface water sources during drought years. End-member mixing analysis was conducted to identify possible water end members. Turbidity hysteresis patterns described by previous studies show in-channel sources are dominant for discharge events year round, and there is no difference in fine sediment delivery to streams with or without a soil protecting layer of snow on the land surface. The dominance of sub-surface water sources and evidence for infiltration flow fits with turbidity data, as little material is reaching the stream due to erosive overland flow. An understanding of flow pathways provides a foundation for sustainable land use management in forested, mountain systems.
Martin, S., Conklin, M., Liu, F. (2015): Source Water Flow Pathways In Forested, Mountain, Headwater Streams: A Link Between Sediment Movement Patterns And Stream Water Chemistry . H31D. Disturbance Hydrology: Assessing the Impacts of Abrupt Landscape Changes on Watershed Hydrology I Posters, presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec..