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Discussion papers | Copyright
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Research article 30 May 2018

Research article | 30 May 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Mountain water cellars: a chemical characterization and quantification of the hydrological processes and contributions from snow, glaciers and groundwater to the Upper Mendoza River basin (~ 32° S), Argentina

Sebastián A. Crespo1,2, Julieta N. Aranibar2,3, Francisco Fernandoy4,5, and Leandro Cara2 Sebastián A. Crespo et al.
  • 1Instituto de Geografía, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar y Geografía, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, 2362807, Chile
  • 2Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias Ambientales, Conicet, Mendoza, CP5500, Argentina
  • 3Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, CP5500, Argentina
  • 4Laboratorio de Análisis Isotópico LAI, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad Andrés Bello, Viña del Mar, 2531015, Chile
  • 5Centro de Investigación para la Sustentabilidad CIS, Facultad de Ecología y Recursos Naturales, Universidad Andrés Bello, 8370251, Santiago, Chile

Abstract. Abstract. Between 2010 and 2015 the Central Andes of Chile and Argentina (32–37°S) suffered the effects of a mega drought without precedents in the instrumental period, where 71% of weather stations showed more than 30% of rainfall scarcity in Central Chile. The Cordillera Principal geological province, in the Upper Mendoza River basin, receives almost exclusively winter precipitation originated from the Pacific Ocean moisture. In addition to the snow that precipitates in this area of 3023km2, there are 951 ice bodies, covering an area of 404km2. The Mendoza River flow provides fresh water for more than 1.1 million inhabitants in this agriculture based arid region. Given the high inter–annual variability of snowfall, strongly affected by ENSO events, and the aridity of the region, it is crucial to quantify the contribution from different water sources to the Mendoza River flow. Glaciers play an important role regulating water availability, with mass accumulation in wet and cold years, and melting in hot, dry years. Understanding their dynamics as a function of environmental variables will help us predict water availability under a changing climate. Combining the instrumental record of streamflow from glaciers and rivers, meteorological data, remote sensing of snow covered area and chemical analysis of different water sources, this study attempts to understand climatic variables that control thawing, and the hydrological contribution of different glaciers to the streamflow during a dry period. Isotopic composition allowed us to differentiate snowmelt from glacier ice melt. In addition, it was possible to detect contributions of summer rainfall from Atlantic origin, in their unique storms that reach the Cordillera Principal, even when they had not been registered at weather stations. Finally, with end member mixing analysis, the relative contribution from different water sources were quantified over time, showing the temporally increasing contribution of glacial and periglacial environments as the melting season progresses.

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Sebastián A. Crespo et al.
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Sebastián A. Crespo et al.
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Short summary
This work focuses on catchment hydrology understanding in a glaciarized basin of the Andes mountains. Using an approach combining stable water isotopes, ionic chemistry and end member mixing modelling with satellite imagery, meteorological and streamflow data analysis, was possible to discriminate contributions from different water sources in time and space. This is relevant to implement adaptation policies aiming the maintenance of water supply and demand equilibrium in an arid territory.
This work focuses on catchment hydrology understanding in a glaciarized basin of the Andes...