Comparative water potential and chloride profiles (∼10 m deep) collected from four vegetation communities in the Trans-Pecos region of the Chihuahuan Desert were assessed to evaluate the potential for using vegetation patterns as a means of efficiently improving large-scale estimates of basin-floor recharge in semiarid and arid regions. Analytical solutions and multiphase flow and transport modeling constrained flux histories and current fluxes across the water table at each site. Chloride bulge profiles containing ∼12–15 kyr of atmospheric deposition and long-term drying water potential profiles typified most desertscrub and grassland sites. In contrast, evidence of episodic sub-root zone percolation and chloride profiles containing <250 yr of atmospheric deposition characterized the woodland site. The results suggested that the desertscrub and grassland areas support small upward fluxes across the water table (nonrecharge), whereas the woodland site supports significant downward fluxes across the water table (recharge). A nonrecharge–recharge transition was identified to be collocated with a grassland–woodland ecotone. The establishment of vegetation–recharge relationships such as this will improve estimates of basin-scale recharge by identifying regions where no recharge is expected and regions where recharge is expected and point measurements should be concentrated. An approach integrating remotely sensed spatial distributions of vegetation and indicator relationships to recharge is both timely and warranted, although several caveats, as revealed in this study, should be noted. For example, the relative importance and distribution of vertical conduits that permit percolation to the water table merits future investigation.
Additional publication details
Identifying areas of basin-floor recharge in the Trans-Pecos region and the link to vegetation