Soil frost controls streamflow generation processes in headwater catchments

Mariel W. Jones, Stephen D Sebestyen, Salli F. Dymond, Gene-Hua C Ng, Xue Feng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The relationship between snowmelt and spring streamflow is changing under warming temperatures and diminishing snowpack. At the same time, the hydrologic connectivity across catchment landscape elements, such as snowpack and surface wetlands, can play a critical role in controlling the routing of snowmelt to streams. The role of hydrologic connectivity is important in headwater regions of the continental northern latitudes, where catchments have low topographic relief and seasonally frozen ground. Nevertheless, the effects of soil frost on the sequence, timing, and magnitudes of hydrologic events that drive the movement of water from a snowpack to a stream are not fully understood. Therefore, we examine two questions: First, what is the flowpath that snow melt and precipitation from spring rain events takes to generate spring streamflow, and second, what hydrologic, climatic, or landscape variables exert the most control on the magnitude of streamflow? Here, we use long-term hydrological records from the two reference basins at the Marcell Experimental Forest in northern Minnesota to analyze the cascading effects across precipitation, snow, water table elevation, soil frost, and streamflow in peatland-dominated headwater catchments. We identify a sequence of fill-and-spill effects across the landscape that control the timing of spring streamflow generation. Then, we use stepwise regression to show that soil frost is a key supporting predictor for both the magnitude of streamflow in the spring as it adds significantly to the predictive power of precipitation and water table elevation. Our results highlight the importance of recognizing the role of soil frost, when present, on the partitioning of snowmelt between overland runoff and water table recharge during the critical snowmelt period, as well as the later partitioning between evapotranspiration and subsurface flows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number128801
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Volume617
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.J. and X.F. were supported by the Department of Energy Environmental System Science, United States grant DE-SC0019036 . The long-term monitoring at the MEF and the contributions of S.D.S are funded by the Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, United States .

Funding Information:
M.J. and X.F. were supported by the Department of Energy Environmental System Science, United States grant DE-SC0019036. The long-term monitoring at the MEF and the contributions of S.D.S are funded by the Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, United States.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.

Keywords

  • Long-term data
  • Peatlands
  • Snow
  • Streamflow generation

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