Linking snowmelt-derived fluxes and groundwater flow in a high elevation meadow system, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

Authors

  • Christopher S. Lowry,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, WI, USA
    • Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
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  • Jeffrey S. Deems,

    1. National Snow and Ice Data Center and NOAA Western Water Assessment, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
    2. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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  • Steven P. Loheide II,

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, WI, USA
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  • Jessica D. Lundquist

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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Abstract

Quantifying snowmelt-derived fluxes at the watershed scale within hillslope environments is critical for investigating local meadow scale groundwater dynamics in high elevation riparian ecosystems. In this article, we investigate the impact of snowmelt-derived groundwater flux from the surrounding hillslopes on water table dynamics in Tuolumne Meadows, which is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, USA. Results show water levels within the meadow are controlled by a combination of fluxes at the hillslope boundaries, snowmelt within the meadow and changes in the stream stage. Observed water level fluctuations at the boundaries of the meadow show the hydrologic connection and subsequent disconnection between the hillslope and meadow aquifers. Timing of groundwater flux entering the meadow as a result of spring snowmelt can vary over 20 days based on the location, aspect, and local geology of the contributing area within the larger watershed. Identifying this temporal and spatial variability in flux entering the meadow is critical for simulating changes in water levels within the meadow. Model results can vary significantly based on the temporal and spatial scales at which watershed processes are linked to local processes within the meadow causing errors when boundary fluxes are lumped in time or space. Without a clear understanding of the surrounding hillslope hydrology, it is difficult to simulate groundwater dynamics within high elevation riparian ecosystems with the accuracy necessary for understanding ecosystem response. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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