The thermal regime of riverine systems is a major control on aquatic ecosystems. Ground water discharge is an important abiotic driver of the aquatic ecosystem because it provides preferred thermal structure and habitat for different types of fish at different times in their life history. In large diverse river basins with an extensive riverine system, documenting the thermal regime and ground-water discharge is difficult and problematic. A method was developed to thermally profile long (5-25 kilometers) river reaches by towing in a Lagrangian framework one or two probes that measure temperature, depth, and conductivity. One probe is towed near the streambed and, if used, a second probe is towed near the surface. The probes continuously record data at 1-3-second intervals while a Global Positioning System logs spatial coordinates. The thermal profile provides valuable information about spatial and temporal variations in habitat, and, notably, indicates ground-water discharge areas.
This method was developed and tested in the Yakima River Basin, Washington, in summer 2001 during low flows in an extreme drought year. The temperature profile comprehensively documents the longitudinal distribution of a river's temperature regime that cannot be captured by fixed station data. The example profile presented exhibits intra-reach diversity that reflects the many factors controlling the temperature of a parcel of water as it moves downstream. Thermal profiles provide a new perspective on riverine system temperature regimes that represent part of the aquatic habitat template for lotic community patterns.
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USGS Numbered Series
A thermal profile method to identify potential ground-water discharge areas and preferred salmonid habitats for long river reaches