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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 08 Apr 2019

Research article | 08 Apr 2019

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

Mechanisms of consistently disconnected soil water pools over (pore)space and time

Matthias Sprenger1,2, Pilar Llorens1, Carles Cayuela1, Francesc Gallart1, and Jérôme Latron1 Matthias Sprenger et al.
  • 1Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA-CSIC), Calle Jordi Girona, 18-26, 08034 Barcelona, Spain
  • 2Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, 2720 Faucette Dr, Raleigh, NC 27606, USA

Abstract. Storage and release of water in the soils is critical for sustaining plant transpiration and groundwater recharge. However, the subsurface mixing of water available for plants or quickly flowing to streams and groundwater is not yet understood. Moreover, while water infiltrating into soils was shown to bypass older pore water, the mechanisms leading to a separation between water routed to the streams and water held tightly in smaller pores are unclear. Here we present an extensive data set, for which we sampled fortnightly the isotopic composition (2H and 18O) of mobile and bulk soil water in parallel with groundwater, stream water and rainfall in the Mediterranean long-term research catchment, Vallcebre, in Spain. The data revealed that mobile and tightly bound water of a silty loam soil in a Scots pine forest do not mix, but they constitute two separate subsurface water pools; despite intense rainfall events leading to high soil wetness. We show that the isotopic compartmentation results from rewetting of small soil pores with isotopically depleted winter/spring rain. Thus, stable isotopes, and therefore water residence times too, do not only vary across soil depth, but also across soil pores. Our findings have important implications for stable isotope applications in ecohydrological studies assessing water uptake by plants or process realism of hydrological models, as the observed processes are currently rarely implemented in the simulation of water partitioning into evapotranspiration and recharge in the critical zone.

Matthias Sprenger et al.
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Matthias Sprenger et al.
Matthias Sprenger et al.
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Short summary
We present that mobile and matrix bound soil water were continuously different in their stable isotopic compositions over 8 month. Long-term data further shows that these isotopic differences result from refilling of small soil pores by isotopically depleted rains during low soil moisture conditions. Thus, subsurface water is not well mixed, but pore scale variability in flow and residence times persist, which has important implications for ecohydrological studies and soil hydrological modeling.
We present that mobile and matrix bound soil water were continuously different in their stable...