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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 05 Apr 2018

Research article | 05 Apr 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript was accepted for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

The influence of diurnal snowmelt and transpiration on hilllslope throughflow and stream response

Brett Woelber1, Marco P. Maneta1, Joel Harper1, Kelsey G. Jencso2, W. Payton Gardner1, Andrew C. Wilcox1, and Ignacio López-Moreno3 Brett Woelber et al.
  • 1Geosciences Dept, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA
  • 2W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA
  • 3Dpt. Procesos Geoambientales y Cambio Global, Pyrenean Institute of Ecology, C.S.I.C. Zaragoza, Spain

Abstract. Daily stream flow and groundwater dynamics in forested subalpine catchments during spring are to a large extent controlled by hydrological processes that respond to the day-night energy cycle. Diurnal snowmelt and transpiration events combine to induce pressure variations in the soil water storage that are propagated to the stream. In headwater catchments these pressure variations can account for a significant amount of the total pressure in the system and control the magnitude, duration, and timing of stream inflow pulses at daily scales, especially in low flow systems. Changes in the radiative balance at the top of the snowpack can alter the diurnal hydrologic dynamics of the hillslope-stream system with potential ecological and management consequences.

We present a detailed hourly dataset of atmospheric, hillslope, and streamflow measurements collected during one melt season from a semi-alpine headwater catchment in western Montana, US. We use this dataset to investigate the timing, pattern, and linkages among snowmelt-dominated hydrologic processes and assess the role of the snowpack, transpiration, and hillslopes in mediating daily movements of water from the top of the snowpack to local stream systems. We found that the amount of snowpack cold content accumulated during the night, which must be overcome every morning before snowmelt resumes, delayed water recharge inputs by up to 3 hours early in the melt season. These delays were further exacerbated by multi-day storms (cold fronts), which resulted in significant depletions in the soil and stream storages. We also found that both diurnal snowmelt and transpiration signals are present in the diurnal soil and stream storage fluctuations, although the individual contributions of these processes is difficult to discern. Our analysis showed that the hydrologic response of the snow-hillslope-stream system is highly sensitive to atmospheric drivers at hourly scales, and that variations in atmospheric energy inputs or other stresses are quickly transmitted and alter the intensity, duration and timing of snowmelt pulses and soil water extractions by vegetation, which ultimately drive variations in soil and stream water pressures.

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Short summary
The hydrology of high-elevation headwaters in mid-latitudes are typically dominated by snow processes, which are very sensitive to changes in energy inputs at the top of the snowpack. We present a data analysis that reveal how snow melt and transpiration waves induced by the diurnal solar cycle generate water pressure fluctuations that propagate through the snowpack-hillslope-stream system. Changes in diurnal energy inputs alter these pressure cycles with potential ecohydrological consequences.
The hydrology of high-elevation headwaters in mid-latitudes are typically dominated by snow...