GSA 2011 abstract: Spatial variability in groundwater-stream interactions in first-order North Carolina Piedmont streams

At the 2011 GSA Meeting in Minneapolis next week, I’ll be presenting the following talk in the session “Monitoring and Understanding Our Landscape for the Long Term through Small Catchment Studies I: A Tribute to the Career of Owen P. Bricker.” My talk is in Minneapolis Convention Center: Room M100FG, on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 at 9:30 am.

Spatial variability in groundwater-stream interactions in first-order North Carolina Piedmont streams

JEFFERSON, Anne J. and MOORE, Cameron, Dept. of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte,

Groundwater upwelling and hyporheic exchange are spatially variable in three first-order Piedmont streams, resulting in variable discharge, water chemistry and temperature. Stream gradient, valley confinement, and woody debris jams appear to be the major controls on the distribution and size of upwelling zones. Temperature and specific conductance values at 25 m intervals on 18 dates revealed distinct zones of groundwater-stream interaction, confirmed by discharge and piezometer measurements. Baseflow accumulates unevenly along the streams, with upper reaches in confined valleys generally gaining discharge more rapidly than lower reaches. Elevated calcium concentrations occur in groundwater upwelling zones, such as in a 50 m reach in which baseflow triples. Near their mouths, where the streams reach a river floodplain, baseflow quantity and chemistry may be influenced by a larger groundwater system. At a smaller scale, spatial variability in stream chemistry and streambed hydraulic gradients are dominantly controlled by the size and position of woody debris jams. Fine sediment wedges extend 5-15 m upstream of the 0.25-1 m high jams, and strong down-welling hydraulic gradients occur in these areas. Upwelling of water with higher specific conductance and moderated temperatures occurs downstream of the jams. Nitrate concentrations decreased up to 50% immediately below large woody debris jams, while ammonium concentrations tended to be highest there.

Rapid urbanization in the Carolina Piedmont is drastically altering headwater catchments, but well-documented reference watersheds are lacking. The measurements described above are from three first-order streams in forested watersheds, with permanent protection by a land conservancy. Their hydrology and water chemistry demonstrates the rich spatial variability of Piedmont headwater streams, and we hope that long-term study of these sites provides useful understanding for stream restoration and watershed management.

Debris jam and sediment in a first order Deep Creek at Redlair. Photo by Cameron Moore.

Debris jam and sediment in a first order Deep Creek at Redlair. Photo by Cameron Moore.

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