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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-169
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-169
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 23 Apr 2019

Submitted as: research article | 23 Apr 2019

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

Effects of preferential flow on snowmelt partitioning and groundwater recharge in frozen soils

Aaron A. Mohammed1, Igor Pavlovskii1,2, Edwin E. Cey1, and Masaki Hayashi1 Aaron A. Mohammed et al.
  • 1Department of Geoscience, University of Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4, Canada
  • 2Golder Associates Ltd., Calgary, Alberta, T2A 7W5, Canada

Abstract. Snowmelt is a major source of groundwater recharge in cold regions. Throughout many landscapes snowmelt occurs when ground is still frozen, thus frozen soil processes play an important role in snowmelt routing, and, by extension, on the timing and magnitude of recharge. This study investigated the vadose zone dynamics governing snowmelt infiltration and groundwater recharge at three grassland sites in the Canadian Prairies over the winter and spring of 2017. The region is characterised by numerous topographic depressions where ponding of snowmelt runoff results in focused infiltration and recharge. Water balance estimates showed infiltration was the dominant sink (35–85 %) of snowmelt under uplands (i.e. areas outside depressions), even when ground was frozen, with soil moisture responses indicating flow through the frozen layer. Refreezing of infiltrated meltwater during winter melt events enhanced runoff generation in subsequent melt events. At one site, time lags of up to 3 days between snowcover depletion on uplands and ponding in depressions demonstrated the role of shallow subsurface flow through frozen soil in routing snowmelt to depressions. At all sites, depression-focused infiltration and recharge began before ground thaw and a significant portion (45–100 %) occurred while the ground was partially frozen. Relatively rapid infiltration rates and non-sequential soil moisture and groundwater responses, observed prior to ground thaw, indicated preferential flow through frozen soils. The preferential flow dynamics are attributed to macropore networks within the grassland soils, which allow infiltrated meltwater to bypass portions of the frozen soil matrix and facilitate both lateral transport of meltwater between topographic positions and groundwater recharge through frozen ground. Both of these flowpaths may facilitate preferential mass transport to groundwater.

Aaron A. Mohammed et al.
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Aaron A. Mohammed et al.
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Short summary
In cold regions, the permeability of frozen ground is an important factor influencing a watershed’s response to snowmelt. This study highlights the effects of preferential flow in frozen soils on snowmelt redistribution and groundwater recharge in seasonally frozen landscapes.
In cold regions, the permeability of frozen ground is an important factor influencing a...
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