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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) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 14 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 14 Jan 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal HESS.

Do streamwater solute concentrations reflect when connectivity occurs in a small pre-alpine headwater catchment?

Leonie Kiewiet1, Ilja van Meerveld1, Manfred Stähli2, and Jan Seibert1,3 Leonie Kiewiet et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
  • 2Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

Abstract. Expansion of the hydrologically connected area during rainfall events causes previously disconnected areas to contribute to streamflow. If these contributing areas have a different hydrochemical composition than the permanently connected areas, this may cause a change in streamwater chemistry that can not be described by simple mixing of rainfall and baseflow. Changes in stormflow composition are therefore sometimes used to identify when transiently disconnected areas (or water sources) contribute to stormflow. We identified the dominant sources of streamflow for four rainfall events in a steep 20-ha pre-alpine headwater catchment in Switzerland to investigate the temporal changes in connectivity. First, we compared the isotopic and chemical composition of stormflow at the catchment outlet to the composition of rainfall, groundwater, and soil water. Three-component end-member mixing analyses indicated that groundwater dominated stormflow for three of the four events, and that soil water fractions were minimal for two events. Then, we tested whether conservative mixing of rainfall and baseflow could describe the chemical composition of stormflow. To this end, we estimated the concentrations of different solutes in stormflow based on the mixing fractions derived from a conservative tracer (δ2H) and the concentration of the solutes in baseflow and rainfall. Then, we compared these estimated concentrations to the measured concentrations. We found that the estimated concentrations differed from the measured stormflow concentrations for many solutes and samples. The deviations increased gradually with streamflow for some solutes (e.g., iron and copper), suggesting increased hydrologic connectivity. However, the large variability in soil and groundwater composition compared to the changes in stormflow inhibited the determination of the contributions from the different sources. Our findings show that solute concentrations can be helpful for investigating hydrologic connectivity, and that it is important to quantify the variability in the composition of different source areas.

Leonie Kiewiet et al.

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Leonie Kiewiet et al.

Leonie Kiewiet et al.


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Latest update: 30 May 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The sources of streamwater are important, for instance, to predict floods. The connectivity between streams and different (ground)water sources can change during rain events, which affects the streamwater composition. We investigated this for streamwater sampled during four events and found that streamwater came from different sources. The streamwater composition changed gradually, and we showed that solute concentrations could be linked to changes in connectivity.
The sources of streamwater are important, for instance, to predict floods. The connectivity...