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Physical and Temporal Isolation of Mountain Headwater Streams in the Western Mojave Desert, Southern California1


  • 1

    Paper No. J06013 of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).



Abstract:  Streams draining mountain headwater areas of the western Mojave Desert are commonly physically isolated from downstream hydrologic systems such as springs, playa lakes, wetlands, or larger streams and rivers by stream reaches that are dry much of the time. The physical isolation of surface flow in these streams may be broken for brief periods after rainfall or snowmelt when runoff is sufficient to allow flow along the entire stream reach. Despite the physical isolation of surface flow in these streams, they are an integral part of the hydrologic cycle. Water infiltrated from headwater streams moves through the unsaturated zone to recharge the underlying ground-water system and eventually discharges to support springs, streamflow, isolated wetlands, or native vegetation. Water movement through thick unsaturated zones may require several hundred years and subsequent movement through the underlying ground-water systems may require many thousands of years – contributing to the temporal isolation of mountain headwater streams.