Linking Weathering, Rock Moisture Dynamics, Geochemistry, Runoff, Vegetation and Atmospheric Processes through the Critical Zone: Graduate Student led Research at the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 10:50 AM
William E Dietrich, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States
In the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory lies Rivendell, a heavily-instrumented steep forested hillslope underlain by nearly vertically dipping argillite interbedded with sandstone. Under this convex hillslope lies “Zb”, the transition to fresh bedrock, which varies from less than 6 m below the surface near the channel to 20 m at the divide. Rempe and Dietrich (2014, PNAS) show that the Zb profile can be predicted from the assumption that weathering occurs when drainage is induced in the uplifting fresh bedrock under hillslopes by lateral head gradients driven by channel incision at the hillslope boundary. Infiltrating winter precipitation is impeded at the lower conductivity boundary at Zb, generating perched groundwater that dynamically pulses water laterally to the channel, controlling stream runoff. Below the soil and above the water table lies an unsaturated zone through which all recharge to the perched groundwater (and thus all runoff to channels) occurs. It is this zone and the waters in them that profoundly affect critical zone processes. In our seasonally dry environment, the first rains penetrate past the soil and moisten the underlying weathered bedrock (Salve et al., 2012, WRR). It takes about 200 to 400 mm of cumulative rain, however, before the underlying groundwater rises significantly. Oshun et al (in review) show that by this cumulative rainfall the average of the wide-ranging isotopic signature of rain reaches a nearly constant average annual value. Consequently, the recharging perched groundwater shows only minor temporal isotopic variation. Kim et al, (2014, GCA) find that the winter high-flow groundwater chemistry is controlled by relatively fast-reacting cation exchange processes, likely occurring in transit in the unsaturated zone. Oshun also demonstrates that the Douglas fir rely on this rock moisture as a water source, while the broadleaf trees (oaks and madrone) use mostly soil moisture. Link et al (2014 WRR) show that Doug fir declines in transpiration rate significantly compared to the madrone during summer high water stress periods, with may induce feedbacks from the forest to atmospheric temperature and humidity. Collectively these studies spotlight the seasonally dynamic unsaturated zone in the weathered bedrock beneath the soil as key to understanding critical zone processes.