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Ground water occurrence and contributions to streamflow in an alpine catchment, Colorado Front Range

Ground Water

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https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6584.2003.tb02436.x

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Abstract

Ground water occurrence, movement, and its contribution to streamflow were investigated in Loch Vale, an alpine catchment in the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Hydrogeomorphologic mapping, seismic refraction measurements, and porosity and permeability estimates indicate that talus slopes are the primary ground water reservoir, with a maximum storage capacity that is equal to, or greater than, total annual discharge from the basin (5.4 ± 0.8 × 106 m3). Although snowmelt and glacial melt provide the majority of annual water flux to the basin, tracer tests and gauging along a stream transect indicate that ground water flowing from talus can account for ≥75% of streamflow during storms and the winter base flow period. The discharge response of talus springs to storms and snowmelt reflects rapid transmittal of water through coarse debris at the talus surface and slower release of water from finer-grained sediments at depth.

Ice stored in permafrost (including rock glaciers) is the second largest ground water reservoir in Loch Vale; it represents a significant, but seldom recognized, ground water reservoir in alpine terrain. Mean annual air temperatures are sufficiently cold to support permafrost above 3460 m; however, air temperatures have increased 1.1° to 1.4°C since the early 1990s, consistent with long-term (1976–2000) increases in air temperature measured at other high-elevation sites in the Front Range, European Alps, and Peruvian Andes. If other climatic factors remain constant, the increase in air temperatures at Loch Vale is sufficient to increase the lower elevational limit of permafrost by 150 to 190 m. Although this could cause a short-term increase in streamflow, it may ultimately result in decreased flow in the future.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Ground water occurrence and contributions to streamflow in an alpine catchment, Colorado Front Range
Series title:
Ground Water
DOI:
10.1111/j.1745-6584.2003.tb02436.x
Volume:
41
Issue:
7
Year Published:
2003
Language:
English
Publisher:
NGWA
Contributing office(s):
Colorado Water Science Center
Description:
14 p.
First page:
937
Last page:
950