Precipitation v. River Discharge Controls on Water Availability to Riparian Trees in the Rhône River Delta

Friday, 19 December 2014: 10:50 AM
Michael Bliss Singer1,2, Christopher Ian Sargeant3, Christine Vallet-Coulomb4, Cristina Evans3 and Charles Richard Bates3, (1)University of St Andrews, St Andrews, KY16, United Kingdom, (2)Earth Research Institute, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, (3)University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom, (4)CEREGE, Aix-en-Provence Cedex, France
Water availability to riparian trees in lowlands is controlled through precipitation and its infiltration into floodplain soils, and through river discharge additions to the hyporheic water table. The relative contributions of both water sources to the root zone within river floodplains vary through time, depending on climatic fluctuations. There is currently limited understanding of how climatic fluctuations are expressed at local scales, especially in ‘critical zone’ hydrology, which is fundamental to the health and sustainability of riparian forest ecosystems. This knowledge is particularly important in water-stressed Mediterranean climate systems, considering climatic trends and projections toward hotter and drier growing seasons, which have the potential to dramatically reduce water availability to riparian forests.

Our aim is to identify and quantify the relative contributions of hyporheic (discharge) water v. infiltrated precipitation to water uptake by riparian Mediterranean trees for several distinct hydrologic years, selected to isolate contrasts in water availability from these sources. Our approach includes isotopic analyses of water and tree-ring cellulose, mechanistic modeling of water uptake and wood production, and physically based modeling of subsurface hydrology. We utilize an extensive database of oxygen isotope (δ18O) measurements in surface water and precipitation alongside recent measurements of δ18O in groundwater and soil water and in tree-ring cellulose. We use a mechanistic model to back-calculate source water δ18O based on δ18O in cellulose and climate data. Finally, we test our results via 1-D hydrologic modeling of precipitation infiltration and water table rise and fall. These steps enable us to interpret hydrologic cycle variability within the ‘critical zone’ and their potential impact on riparian trees.