The Dependence of Peat Soil Hydraulic Conductivity on Dominant Vegetation Type in Mountain Fens

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Audrey C Crockett1, Michael J Ronayne2 and David J. Cooper2, (1)Colorado State University, Geosciences, Fort Collins, CO, United States, (2)Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States
The peat soil within fen wetlands provides water storage that can substantially influence the hydrology of mountain watersheds. In this study, we investigated the relationship between hydraulic conductivity and vegetation type for fens occurring in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado, USA. Vegetation in RMNP fens can be dominated by woody plants and shrubs, such as willows; by mosses; or by herbaceous plants such as sedges. Fens dominated by each vegetation type were selected for study. Six fens were investigated, all of which are in the Colorado River watershed on the west side of RMNP. For each site, soil hydraulic conductivity was measured at multiple locations using a single-ring infiltrometer. As a result of the shallow water table in these fens (the water table was always within 10 cm of the surface), horizontal hydraulic gradients were produced during the field tests. The measured infiltration rates were analyzed using the numerical model HYDRUS. In order to determine the hydraulic conductivity, a parameter estimation problem was solved using HYDRUS as the forward simulator. Horizontal flow was explicitly accounted for in the model. This approach produced more accurate estimates of hydraulic conductivity than would be obtained using an analytical solution that assumes strictly vertical flow. Significant differences in hydraulic properties between fens appear to result at least in part from the effects of different dominant vegetation types on peat soil formation.