Processes controlling the chemistry of two snowmelt‐dominated streams in the Rocky Mountains

Water Resources Research
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Abstract

Time‐intensive discharge and chemical data for two alpine streams in the Loch Vale watershed, Colorado, were used to identify sources of runoff, flow paths, and important biogeochemical processes during the 1992 snowmelt runoff season. In spite of the paucity of soil cover the chemical composition of the streams is regulated much as in typical forested watersheds. Soils and other shallow groundwater matrices such as boulder fields appear to be more important in controlling surface‐water chemistry than their abundance would indicate. The chemical composition of the major source waters (usually thought of as end‐members whose chemical composition is relatively constant over time) changes at the same time that their mixing ratio in streams changes, confounding use of end‐member mixing models to describe stream‐water chemistry. Changes in the chemical composition of these source waters are caused by the ionic pulse of solutes from the snowpack and the small size of the shallow groundwater reservoir compared to the volume of snowmelt passing through it. The brief hydrologic residence time in the shallow groundwater indicates that concentrations of most dissolved constituents of stream water were controlled by fast geochemical processes that occurred on timescales of hours to days, rather than slower processes such as weathering of primary minerals. Differences in the timing of snowmelt‐related processes between different areas of the watershed also affect the stream‐water chemical composition. Cirque lakes affect discharge and chemical composition of one of the streams; seasonal control on stream‐water NO3 and SiO2 concentrations by diatom uptake in the lakes was inferred. Elution of acidic waters from the snowpack, along with dilution of base cations originating in shallow groundwater, caused episodes of decreased acid‐neutralizing capacity in the streams, but the streams did not become acidic.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Processes controlling the chemistry of two snowmelt‐dominated streams in the Rocky Mountains
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1029/95WR02037
Volume 31
Issue 11
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Colorado Water Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 2811
Last page 2821
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park