Surface–subsurface water exchange rates along alluvial river reaches control the thermal patterns in an Alpine river network
Article first published online: 10 SEP 2008
© 2008 The Authors, Journal compilation © 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Volume 54, Issue 2, pages 306–320, February 2009
How to Cite
ACUÑA, V. and TOCKNER, K. (2009), Surface–subsurface water exchange rates along alluvial river reaches control the thermal patterns in an Alpine river network. Freshwater Biology, 54: 306–320. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2427.2008.02109.x
- Issue published online: 12 JAN 2009
- Article first published online: 10 SEP 2008
- (Manuscript accepted 11 August 2008)
- floodplain ecology;
- global warming;
- hyporheic zone;
- thermal refugia;
- water temperature
1. Water temperature is a key characteristic of stream ecosystems that is gaining scientific and managerial relevance as maximum temperatures in aquatic ecosystems increase worldwide.
2. To assess the effect of surface–subsurface water exchange on stream water temperature patterns, four alluvial reaches in the Tagliamento River basin (NE Italy), constrained by geomorphic knickpoints at the upper and lower end, and two to four hyporheic flowpaths within each reach, were continuously studied during summer 2007 and winter 2007–08. Water temperature was continuously monitored at the upstream and downstream knickpoints of the floodplains, as well as at discrete upwelling areas within each reach. Discharge and vertical hydraulic gradient were measured along the alluvial reaches, and the residence time and chemistry of upwelling water were assessed four times during the study.
3. Discharge variation along the study reaches revealed that massive hyporheic exchange occurred in all sites, ranging from 21% in reach 2–52% in reach 1. End member mixing analysis showed little influence of ground water, as almost all upwelling water was freshly infiltrated hyporheic water. Importantly, hyporheic exchange flows shaped surface temperature at the upwelling locations in all study reaches, providing potential thermal refugia for aquatic biota. At sites with highest hyporheic flow rates, net temperature change was also reflected at the floodplain scale.
4. The magnitude of the thermal change along a hyporheic flowpath was not related to the flowpath length but to the estimated 222Rn water age. Reduction in the diel thermal amplitude by hyporheic flows rather than net temperature change, reduced temperature extremes. Therefore, restoration activities to create thermal refugia should consider the role of hyporheic flows and enhance the exchange between surface and hyporheic waters.