Four alpine streams were monitored to continuously collect stream temperature and streamflow for periods ranging from a week to a year. In a small stream in the Colorado Rockies, diurnal variations in both stream temperature and streamflow were significantly greater in losing reaches than in gaining reaches, with minimum streamflow losses occurring early in the day and maximum losses occurring early in the evening. Using measured stream temperature changes, diurnal streambed infiltration rates were predicted to increase as much as 35% during the day (based on a heat and water transport groundwater model), while the measured increase in streamflow loss was 40%. For two large streams in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, annual stream temperature variations ranged from 0??to 25??C. In summer months, diurnal stream temperature variations were 30-40% of annual stream temperature variations, owing to reduced streamflows and increased atmospheric heating. Previous reports document that one Sierra stream site generally gains groundwater during low flows, while the second Sierra stream site may lose water during low flows. For August the diurnal streamflow variation was 11% at the gaining stream site and 30% at the losing stream site. On the basis of measured diurnal stream temperature variations, streambed infiltration rates were predicted to vary diurnally as much as 20% at the losing stream site. Analysis of results suggests that evapotranspiration losses determined diurnal streamflow variations in the gaining reaches, while in the losing reaches, evapotranspiration losses were compounded by diurnal variations in streambed infiltration. Diurnal variations in stream temperature were reduced in the gaining reaches as a result of discharging groundwater of relatively constant temperature. For the Sierra sites, comparison of results with those from a small tributary demonstrated that stream temperature patterns were useful in delineating discharges of bank storage following dam releases. Direct coupling may have occurred between streamflow and stream temperature for losing stream reaches, such that reduced streamflows facilitated increased afternoon stream temperatures and increased afternoon stream temperatures induced increased streambed losses, leading to even greater increases in both stream temperature and streamflow losses.
Additional publication details
Interaction between stream temperature, streamflow, and groundwater exchanges in alpine streams