The Roles of Groundwater Flowpaths and Stream Network Expansion in Landscape Connectivity and Resulting Runoff and Solute Dynamics in an Ephemeral Piedmont Catchment

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Margaret A Zimmer and Brian L McGlynn, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, Durham, NC, United States
Much catchment hydrology has been conducted in steep, perennial stream watersheds with shallow soil. In contrast, we investigated an ephemeral stream watershed with deep, highly weathered soils, gentle relief, and the dynamic hydro-climatology of the Piedmont region of the United States. We seek to gain new understanding about increasingly recognized challenges in the hydrological sciences, including influences of shallow and deep flowpath connectivity and the role of ephemeral streams in hydrologically connecting distal portions of landscapes. We investigated how overland, shallow soil, and deep subsurface flow across landscape positions and antecedent conditions manifest in observed baseflow and stormflow generation and the dynamics of dissolved organic carbon, electrical conductivity, and a suite of cations and anions. Extensive channel expansion and contraction coupled with spatially and temporally variable shallow and deep groundwater flowpaths led to both clockwise and counter-clockwise hysteresis in the relationship between runoff and solute concentrations as a function of antecedent moisture conditions. This suggests that vertical and horizontal hillslope connectivity to the aquatic system is variable across seasons and storms and influences biogeochemical expression at the watershed scale. Our research in Duke Forest, North Carolina has begun to elucidate the interrelationships between the space-time dynamics of runoff generation processes and observed biogeochemical behavior in this deeply weathered, low relief landscape, to provide new insight into processes widely active but less easily identified and quantified elsewhere.