The chemical and isotopic composition of rainfall and stream water was monitored during a storm in the Mattole River basin of northwestern California. About 250 mm of rain fell during 6 days (???80% within a 42 h period) in late January, 1972, following 24 days of little or no precipitation. River discharge near Petrolia increased from 22 m3 s-1 to a maximum of 1300 m3 s-1 while chloride and silica concentrations decreased only from 3.2 to 2.1 and 11.5 to 8.6 mgl-1, respectively. Meanwhile, the isotopic composition of the river changed from ??D = - 42???, ??180 = - 6.8??? and 40 tritium units (T.U.) to extreme values at highest flow of ??D = - 35???, ??180 = - 5.9??? and 25 T.U. in response to volume-weighted rainfall averaging ??D = - 19.5???, ??180 = - 3.1??? and 18 T.U. Despite much rainfall of a composition quite different from that of the prestorm river water, "buffering" processes in the watershed greatly restricted changes in the chemical and isotopic content of the river during storm runoff. Because of the physical and hydrologic characteristics of the watershed, major contributions of groundwater to stormflow are very unlikely. The large increase in dissolved chemical load observed at maximum river discharge required that extensive interaction with, and presumably penetration of, soils occurred within a few hours time. Such a large increase in chemical load also required subsurface stormflow throughout a high proportion of the watershed. Chemical and isotopic stabilization of stormflow is believed to be due mainly to displacement of prestorm soil water, with some effects on river chemistry due to rapid rain-soil interactions. The isotopic and chemical composition of prestorm soil moisture cannot readily be predicted a priori because of possible variability in rainfall composition, evaporation, and exchange with atmospheric moisture, nor can it be assumed that baseflow has a predictable relation to the chemical or isotopic composition of water displaced from soils during storms. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to draw conclusions as to the relative proportions of groundwater and rainfall in runoff from a particular storm based only on the average compositions of rainfall, stormflow, and prestorm river water, as has been done in most previous isotope hydrograph studies. Given the great variation in hydrology, topography, soil characteristics, rainfall intensity and quantity, etc. from place to place, the relative amount of overland flow, subsurface flow from the unsaturated zone and of groundwater in stormflow can vary greatly in time and space. ?? 1986.
Additional publication details
Determination of the components of stormflow using water chemistry and environmental isotopes, Mattole River basin, California