Hydrological Processes, Volume 34, Issue 2

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Stephanie Claire Streich | Cherie J. Westbrook

Mountain fens are limited in their spatial extent but are vital ecosystems for biodiversity, habitat, and carbon and water cycling. Studies of fen hydrological function in northern regions indicate the timing and magnitude of runoff is variable, with atmospheric and environmental conditions playing key roles in runoff production. How the complex ecohydrological processes of mountain fens that govern water storage and release as well as peat accumulation will respond to a warmer and less snowy future climate is unclear. To provide insight, we studied the hydrological processes and function of Sibbald fen, located at the low end of the known elevation range in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, over a dry period. We added an evapotranspiration function to the Spence hydrological function method to better account for storage loss. When frozen in spring and early summer, the fen primarily transmits water. When thawed, the fen's hydrological function switches from water transmission to water release, leading to a summertime water table decline of nearly 1 m. Rainfall events larger than 5 mm can transiently switch fen hydrological function to storage, followed by contribution, depending on antecedent conditions. The evapotranspiration function was dominant only for a brief period in late June and early July when rainfall was low and the ground was still partially frozen, even though evapotranspiration accounted for the largest loss of storage from the system. This research highlights the mechanisms by which mountain peatlands supply baseflow during drought conditions, and the importance of frozen ground and rainfall in regulating their hydrological function. The study has important implications for the sustainability of low elevation mountain fens under climate change.

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Quantifying terrain controls on runoff retention and routing in the Northern Prairies
Igor Pavlovskii | Saskia Noorduijn | Jessica E. Liggett | J. Klassen | Masaki Hayashi

The role of hummocky terrain in governing runoff routing and focussing groundwater recharge in the Northern Prairies of North America is widely recognised. However, most hydrological studies in the region have not effectively utilised information on the surficial geology and associated landforms in large‐scale hydrological characterization. The present study uses an automated digital elevation model (DEM) analysis of a 6500‐km² area in the Northern Prairies to quantify hydrologically relevant terrain parameters for the common types of terrains in the prairies with different surficial deposits widespread in the prairies, namely, moraines and glaciolacustrine deposits. Runoff retention (and storage) capacity within depressions varies greatly between different surficial deposits and is comparable in magnitude with a typical amount of seasonal snowmelt runoff generation. The terrain constraint on potential runoff retention varies from a few millimetres in areas classified as moraine to tens of millimetres in areas classified as stagnant ice moraine deposits. Fluted moraine and glaciolacustrine deposits have intermediate storage capacity values. The study also identified the probability density function describing a number of immediate upstream neighbours for each depression in a fill‐and‐spill network. A relationship between depression parameters and surficial deposits, as well as identified depression network structure, allows parametrisation of hydrologic models outside of the high‐resolution DEM coverage, which can still account for terrain variation in the Prairies.

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Delineating extent and magnitude of river flooding to lakes across a northern delta using water isotope tracers
Casey R. Remmer | Tanner J. Owca | Laura Neary | Johan A. Wiklund | Mitchell L. Kay | Brent B. Wolfe | Roland I. Hall

Hydrological monitoring in complex, dynamic northern floodplain landscapes is challenging, but increasingly important as a consequence of multiple stressors. The Peace‐Athabasca Delta in northern Alberta, Canada, is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance reliant on episodic river ice‐jam flood events to recharge abundant perched lakes and wetlands. Improved and systematic monitoring of landscape‐scale hydrological connectivity among freshwater ecosystems (rivers, channels, wetlands, and lakes) is needed to guide stewardship decisions in the face of climate change and upstream industrial development. Here, we use water isotope compositions, supplemented by measurements of specific conductivity and field observations, from 68 lakes and 9 river sites in May 2018 to delineate the extent and magnitude of spring ice‐jam induced flooding along the Peace and Athabasca rivers. Lake‐specific estimates of input water isotope composition (δI) were modelled after accounting for influence of evaporative isotopic enrichment. Then, using the distinct isotopic signature of input water sources, we develop a set of binary mixing models and estimate the proportion of input to flooded lakes attributable to river floodwater and precipitation (snow or rain). This approach allowed identification of areas and magnitude of flooding that were not captured by other methods, including direct observations from flyovers, and to demarcate flow pathways in the delta. We demonstrate water isotope tracers as an efficient and effective monitoring tool for delineating spatial extent and magnitude of an important hydrological process and elucidating connectivity in the Peace‐Athabasca Delta, an approach that can be readily adopted at other floodplain landscapes.