Hydrologic connectivity and implications for ecosystem processes - Lessons from naked watersheds

TitleHydrologic connectivity and implications for ecosystem processes - Lessons from naked watersheds
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsGooseff, MN, Wlostowski, A, McKnight, DM, Jaros, C
Pagination63 - 71
Date Published01/2017

Hydrologic connectivity has received great attention recently as our conceptual models of watersheds and water quality have evolved in the past several decades. However, the structural complexity of most temperate watersheds (i.e. connections among shallow soils, deep aquifers, the atmosphere and streams) and the dynamic seasonal changes that occur within them (i.e., plant senescence which impacts evapotranspiration) create significant challenges to characterizing or quantifying hydrologic connectivity. The McMurdo Dry Valleys, a polar desert in Antarctica, provide a unique opportunity to study hydrologic connectivity because there is no vegetative cover (and therefore no transpiration), and no deep aquifers connected to surface soils or streams. Glacier melt provides stream flow to well-established channels and closed-basin, ice-covered lakes on the valley floor. Streams are also connected to shallow hyporheic zones along their lengths, which are bounded at ~75 cm depth by ice-cemented permafrost. These hydrologic features and connections provide water for and underpin biological communities. Hence, exchange of water among them provides a vector for exchange of energy and dissolved solutes. Connectivity is dynamic on timescales of a day to a flow season (6–12 weeks), as streamflow varies over these timescales. The timescales over which these connections occur is also dynamic. Exchanges between streams and hyporheic zones, for example, have been estimated to be as short as hours to as long as several weeks. These exchanges have significant implications for the biogeochemistry of these systems and the biotic communities in each feature. Here we evaluate the lessons we can learn about hydrologic connectivity in the MDV watersheds that are simplified in the context of processes occurring and water reservoirs included in the landscape, yet are sensitive to climate controls and contain substantial physical heterogeneity. We specifically explore several metrics that are simple and/or commonly employed in hydrologic analyses and interpret them in the context of connectivity between and among hydrologic features.

Short TitleGeomorphology