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landscape evolution

Abstract: Timescales of drainage network evolution are driven by coupled changes in landscape properties and hydrologic response

I will be at the CUAHSI 3rd Biennial Colloquium on Hydrologic Science and Engineering on July 16-18, 2012 in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve been asked to speak in a session on the co-evolution of geomorphology and hydrology. This is a cool opportunity for me, as I’ve been thinking about co-evolution in both volcanic landscapes and Piedmont gullies for the past couple of years. I’m going to attempt to stitch those two very different landscapes and timescales together in one conceptual framework in the talk, and I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Timescales of drainage network evolution are driven by coupled changes in landscape properties and hydrologic response
Anne J. Jefferson

In diverse landscapes, channel initiation locations move up or downslope over time in response to changes in land surface properties (vegetation, soils, and topography) which control the partitioning of water between subsurface, overland, and channelized flowpaths. In turn, channelized flow exerts greater erosive power than overland or subsurface flows, and can much more efficiently denude and dissect the landscape, leading to altered flowpaths and land surface properties. These feedbacks can be considered a fundamental aspect of catchment coevolution, with the headward extent of the stream network and landscape dissection as prime indicators of the evolutionary status of a landscape.

Photo by Ralph McGee, used with Permission.

Gullying in a Piedmont forest, downslope from a pasture. Cabin Creek headwaters, Redlair. Photo by Ralph McGee, used with permission.

Drainage network evolution in response to landscape change may occur over multiple timescales, depending on the rapidity of change in the hydrogeomorphic drivers. Climate and lithology may also modify the rates at which drainage networks respond to change in land surface properties. On basaltic landscapes, such as the Oregon Cascades, timescales of a million years or more can be necessary to evolve from an undissected landscape with slow, deep groundwater drainage to a fully-dissected landscape dominated by shallow subsurface stormflow and rapid hydrograph response in streams. This evolution seems to be driven by a slow change in land surface properties and permeability as a result of weathering, soil development, and mantling by low permeability materials, but may also reflect the high erosion resistance of crystalline bedrock. Conversely, rapid or near-instantaneous changes in land surface properties , such as accompanied the beginning of intensive agriculture in the southeastern Piedmont, can propagate into rapid (1-10 year) changes in channel network extent on clay-rich soils. Where agriculture has been abandoned in this region and forests have regrown, downslope retreat and infilling of extensive gully networks is occurring on decadal timescales.

New report: Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences

The “blue book” has been updated and you can read and download a pre-publication PDF on the National Academies’ website for free. I’ve just been listening to a CUAHSI webinar summarizing the report, and I was please to see that a lot of the questions I’m interested in were highlighted by the committee that updated the report. For instance, there was specific mention of urban hydrology (and how changes to flowpaths and quantity alter water quality), the co-evolution of hydrology, landscapes, and life, and the need to understand the controls on the low flow extent of streams. I’ll be reading sections of this report in coming months, and if you want to get a sense of the state of hydrologic science, you would probably do well to start here too.

AGU 2011 abstract: Understanding channel network extent in the North Carolina Piedmont in the context of legacy land use, flow generation processes, and landscape dissection

The following talk will be presented by Anne at the 2011 AGU fall meeting on Wednesday, December 7th from 9 to 9:15 am in the session “EP31G. Predictive Understanding of Coupled Interactions Among Water, Life, and Landforms II.” It will be in rooms 2022-2024, and the abstract acceptance said something about video on demand.

Understanding channel network extent in the North Carolina Piedmont in the context of legacy land use, flow generation processes, and landscape dissection

Anne J. Jefferson and Ralph W. McGee
Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC

Nearly all land in the eastern US Piedmont region was cleared for intensive agriculture following European settlement, but some areas have been afforested over the last century. In these areas, an extensive ephemeral stream network drains into perennial headwater streams. In order to understand the present-day functioning of the ephemeral network in afforested watersheds, we mapped 102 channel head positions at 6 sites and monitored 6 channels at 2 sites in North Carolina’s Piedmont. The ephemeral channels are activated by subsurface flow from high intensity precipitation with wet or dry soils, or long duration precipitation with wet soils. Overland flow does not occur upslope of channel heads in forested watersheds, but it is observed in present-day pastures and fields.

Channel head contributing areas range from 0.1 – 3.0 ha, with local slopes that average 0.13 (range: 0.04 – 0.36). The relationship between slope and area at the channel heads has the form c = AS1.1, with an exponent much lower than the commonly reported exponent of ~2 that is associated with subsurface or saturation overland flow. Instead, the lower exponent may reflect the legacy of 18th-19th century of intense land use and degraded cover, which may have produced turbulent overland flow upslope of channels. Though established by relict land use conditions, we suggest that this network extent is maintained by the frequent activation of the channels through subsurface flow under forest cover. Further, channel heads are located within or downslope of colluvial hollows suggesting that gullying from historical land use is not the most extensive channel network experienced by the Piedmont over the course its landscape evolution, and that the dissection of the landscape may be the result of a precipitation and land cover regime much different from the modern one.

Gully down to bedrock, Morrow Mountains State Park, North Carolina (photo by A. Jefferson)

Gully down to bedrock, Morrow Mountains State Park, North Carolina (photo by A. Jefferson)

AGU 2011 abstract: Controls on the hydrologic evolution of Quaternary volcanic landscapes

The following talk will be presented in the 2011 AGU fall meeting session on “EP41F. Posteruptive Processes Operating on Volcanic Landscapes I” on Thursday, December 8th from 9:15 to 9:30 am.

Controls on the hydrologic evolution of Quaternary volcanic landscapes
Anne J. Jefferson and Noemi d’Ozouville

1. Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, United States.
2. UMR 7619 Sisyphe CNRS & UPMC, Universite Paris 6, Paris, France.

Conceptual models that explain the evolution of young volcanic landscapes require the prominent inclusion of processes which affect partitioning of water between surface and subsurface flows. Recently emplaced lava flows have no surface drainage, with infiltration to groundwater as the dominant hydrologic process. Older volcanic landscapes are often dominated by extensive drainage networks, fed by permanent or intermittent streams, which have deeply dissected the constructional topography. Drainage density, topography, and stream and groundwater discharge provide readily quantifiable measures of hydrologic and landscape evolution on volcanic chronosequences. We will use examples from the High Cascades, Galapagos, and elsewhere to illustrate the trajectories and timescales of hydrologic evolution.

We suggest that the surface-subsurface water partitioning is a function of volcanic architecture, climate-driven processes, and water-rock interactions. We will show that in mafic volcanic areas, climate-driven processes (such as weathering and dust deposition) control landscape evolution, while explosive eruptive products may be important for local hydrology. In the High Cascades, where precipitation exceeds 2 m/yr, landscape dissection has obliterated constructional morphology within 1 million years, while in the more arid Galapagos, million year old landscapes are largely undissected. Conversely, localized groundwater perching on pyroclastic layers or paleosols has been characterized in the Galapagos, but not in the Cascades, where pyroclastic activity is more limited in extent. In areas where explosive activity, including phreatomagmatism, dominates volcanism, the evolution of hydrology and topography occurs much more rapidly than in landscapes created by effusion. Hydrothermal circulation and water-rock interactions may play an important role in reducing deep permeability and altering subsurface flowpaths in some volcanic landscapes. Observed chronosequences can be complicated by juxtaposition of different age deposits, post-emplacement faulting, uplift or subsidence, and climate change, so detailed understanding of the landscape’s geologic history is a prerequisite for appropriate interpretation of hydrologic evolution in volcanic landscapes.

Lush vegetation in a pit crater on Santa Cruz Island

A "pit crater" in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos shows preferential vegetation growth at the contact between lava flows, probably where water is more available. Photo by A. Jefferson.

Chapman Abstract: Top down or bottom up? Volcanic history, climate, and the hydrologic evolution of volcanic landscapes

In July 2011, Anne was a plenary speaker at the Chapman Conference on The Galápagos as a Laboratory for the Earth Sciences in Puerto Ayora, Galapágos. Anne was tasked with reviewing the state-of-knowledge of volcanic island hydrology and identifying pressing questions for future research in this 40 minute talk. The following is the abstract which she submitted when she began the task.

Top down or bottom up? Volcanic history, climate, and the hydrologic evolution of volcanic landscapes

Volcanic landscapes are well suited for observing changes in hydrologic processes over time, because they can be absolutely dated and island chains segregate surfaces of differing age. The hydrology of mafic volcanic landscapes evolves from recently emplaced lava flows with no surface drainage, toward extensive stream networks and deeply dissected topography. Groundwater, a significant component of the hydrologic system in young landscapes, may become less abundant over time. Drainage density, topography, and stream and groundwater discharge provide readily quantifiable measures of hydrologic and landscape evolution on volcanic chronosequences. In the Oregon Cascades, for example, the surface drainage network is created and becomes deeply incised over the same million-year timescale at which springs disappear from the landscape. But chronosequence studies are of limited value if they are not closely tied to the processes setting the initial conditions and driving hydrologic evolution over time.

Landscape dissection occurs primarily by erosion from overland flow, which is absent or limited in young, mafic landscapes. Thus, volcano hydrology requires conceptual models that explain landscape evolution in terms of processes which affect partitioning of water between surface and subsurface flows. Multiple conceptual models have been proposed to explain hydrologic partitioning and evolution of volcanic landscapes, invoking both bottom up (e.g., hydrothermal alteration) and top down processes (e.g., soil development). I suggest that hydrologic characteristics of volcanic islands and arcs are a function of two factors: volcanic history and climate. We have only begun to characterize the relative importance of these two drivers in setting the hydrologic characteristics of volcanic landscapes of varying age and geologic and climatic settings.

Detailed studies of individual volcanoes have identified dikes and sills as barriers to groundwater and lava flow contacts as preferential zones of groundwater movement. Erosion between eruptive episodes and deposits from multiple eruptive centers can complicate spatial patterns of groundwater flow, and hydrothermal alteration can reduce permeability, decreasing deep groundwater circulation over time. Size and abundance of tephra may be a major geologic determinant of groundwater/surface water partitioning, while flank collapse can introduce knickpoints that drive landscape dissection. The combination of these volcanic controls will set initial conditions for the hydrology and drive bottom up evolutionary processes.

Climatic forcing drives many top down processes, but understanding the relative effectiveness of these processes in propelling hydrologic evolution requires broader cross-site comparisons. The extent of weathering may be a major control on whether water infiltrates vertically or moves laterally, and we know weathering rates increase until precipitation exceeds evapotranspiration. Weathering by plant roots initially increases porosity, but accumulation of weathered materials, such as clays in soils, can reduce near-surface permeability and promote overland flow. Similarly, eolian or glacial inputs may create low permeability covers on volcanic landscapes.

View into the crater of Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabella Island, Galapagos

View of the 2005 lava inside the crater of Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabella Island, Galapagos. Photo by A. Jefferson

A continental divide that runs through a valley

Now that’s pathological.

Parts of the Upper Midwest are disappearing under spring floods. The Red River of the North is at major flood stage, again, and the Minnesota River flood crest is moving downstream. It’s a pretty frequent occurrence in both of these river systems, and in part, flooding is a legacy of the glacial history of the area. The Red River flows to the north along the lake bed of Glacial Lake Agassiz, which is pathologically flat. The Minnesota River flows to the south along the channel of the Glacial River Warren, which was gouged out of the landscape by water draining from Lake Agassiz.

14,000 years ago there was direct connection between what is now the Red River basin and the Minnesota River basin. Today, there’s a continental divide – with the Red flowing toward Hudson Bay and the Minnesota flowing toward the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. But what a strange continental divide it is – for it runs through the former outlet of Lake Agassiz, in what is now known as Brown’s Valley or the Traverse Gap. This divide is not so much a high point in the landscape, but a just-not-quite-as-low area. The little community of Brown’s Valley sits between Lake Traverse (flows to the North, forming the headwaters of the Red) and Big Stone Lake (flows to the south, forming the headwaters of the Minnesota).

Here’s what it looks like on Google Earth. Note that I’ve set the terrain to 3x vertical exaggeration, so that you have some hope of seeing the subtle topography of this area.


And here’s a very, very cool oblique photo from Wikipedia. It shows the divide looking from north to south — mostly covered by floodwaters in 2007. It’s not every day you get to see a continental divide covered in water.


Braided river meets mountain gorge: The Snake River escapes Jackson Hole

Though I don’t think anything can top Kyle’s pathologically misdirected RYNHO, I recently had cause to contemplate a river that everyone has heard of – the Snake River of the northwestern United States. Now, the Snake River has a famous gorge, a famous lava plain, and it’s had a famously big flood or two, but the upper reaches of the Snake are pretty scenic too. The Snake originates in Yellowstone National Park and flows through Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole valley. Throughout the broad, flat valley, the Snake is beautifully braided (with some gorgeous terraces too).Then it runs into some mountains – the Wyoming Range – and it runs out of room to braid, becoming constricted into a narrow mountain gorge. Interestingly, after heading south from Yellowstone and through Jackson Hole, the river turns west through the mountains and then quite abruptly turns north towards Idaho’s Snake River Plain.

I’d love to know how and why the river started along this path and how intensely the river’s course is geologically controlled. I think the gorge is south of the Teton block, and it’s possible that it’s in an narrow zone that hasn’t seen as much uplift as other mountain blocks in the Basin and Range, but I’m just speculating here. If anyone has any good ideas or citations, please drop them in the comments.

The images below are from a mix of Flash Earth (permalink here) and Google Earth. The first is a large scale view of the braided-gorge transition, while the second and third are close-ups of typical braided and gorge reaches, respectively.

Posted via web from Pathological Geomorphology

New publication: Coevolution of hydrology and topography on a basalt landscape in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA

How does a landscape go from looking like this…

<2000 year old landscape on basaltic lava with no surface drainage

~1500 year old basaltic lava landscape with no surface drainage

to looking like this?

2 Million year old landscape on basaltic lava

2 Million year old landscape on basaltic lava. Note steep slopes and incised valleys

Find out in my new paper in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.

Hint: Using a chronosequence of watersheds in the Oregon Cascades, we argue that the rates and processes of landscape evolution are driven by whether the water sinks into the lava flows and moves slowly toward springs with steady hydrographs or whether the water moves quickly through the shallow subsurface and creates streams with flashy hydrographs. Further, we suggest that this water routing is controlled by an elusive landscape-scale permeability which decreases over time as processes like chemical weathering create soil and clog up pores in the rock. And as a bonus, because of the high initial permeability of basaltic landscapes, the formation of stream networks and the dissection of the landscape appears to take far longer than in places with less permeable lithologies.

Jefferson, A., Grant, G., Lewis, S., & Lancaster, S. (2010). Coevolution of hydrology and topography on a basalt landscape in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 35 (7), 803-816 DOI: 10.1002/esp.1976

My picks of the December literature

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

I’m a few days behind on sharing my picks from December’s journals, but Chris has been doing such a stupendous job of sharing absolutely wonderful geology posts (and of deconstructing terrible science reporting), that I hardly feel guilty waiting until he’s occupied with travels before sneaking this post onto the blog.

Without further ado, here is the odd assortment of articles that hit my email box in December that I found most intriguing. They reflect a mixture of my past, present, and future research and teaching interests and should not be considered a reflection of anyone else’s tastes in science.

Burbey, T.J. (2010) Fracture characterization using Earth tide analysis, Journal of Hydrology, 380:237-246. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.10.037

Tides are popping up all over in the geology literature these days, from the Slumgullion earthflow (atmospheric tides) to the San Andreas fault (earth tides). Here Burbey uses water-level fluctuations in fractured rock confined aquifers to quantify specific storage and secondary porosity. Fractured rock aquifers are notoriously tricky to understand, and this method gives hydrogeologists one more tool in their arsenal for understanding places like the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Piedmont. Since I’m getting interested in the fractured rocks in just those areas, this paper caught my eye.

Burnett, W.C., Peterson, R.N., Santos, I.R., and Hicks, R.W. (2010) Use of automated radon measurements for rapid assessment of groundwater flow into Florida streams Journal of Hydrology, 380:298-304. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.11.005

Radon is a conservative tracer with concentrations several orders of magnitude higher in groundwater than surface water. That means that it can be used to evaluate the groundwater inputs into different stream reaches, though it is often used in conjunction with other tracers to get quantitative estimates. In this paper, Burnett and colleagues lay out a method for using radon as a sole tracer to quantify groundwater discharge. I’m looking around for tracers to separate overland flow, flow through the soil/saprolite, and groundwater from rock fractures, so this paper piqued my interest as radon is one candidate I’m learning more about.

Garcia-Castellanos, D., Estrada, F., Jiménez-Munt, I., Gorini, C., Fernàndez, M., Vergés, J. and De Vicente, R. 2009. Catastrophic flood of the Mediterranean after the Messinian salinity crisis. Nature, 462, 778-781, doi:10.1038/nature08555.

5.6 million years ago the Mediterranean basin was nearly dry and highly saline in the midst of a period known as the Messinian salinity crisis, but 5.33 million years the Atlantic Ocean rapidly refilled the basin by overtopping and incising through the sill at the Straits of Gibraltar. How fast did that sea refill? How big was the peak discharge? And what did all that water do the straits itself? Those are the questions tackled in this paper, which combines borehole and seismic data with hydrodynamic and morphodynamic modeling. The story that Garcia-Castellanos and colleagues tell as a result of their work is truly astounding. The Atlantic Ocean overtopped the sill and slowly began to refill the Mediterranean, but as the sill eroded, discharge (and incision) increased exponentially until peak discharges on the order of 108m3/sec were reached and sea levels in the Mediterranean were increasing by up to 10 m per day.  While the beginning and the end of the flood may have stretched out for thousands of years, the modeling work suggests that the vast majority of water transfer and the incision of greater than 250 m deep canyons across the Straits of Gibraltar was done on a time scale of several months to two years. That peak discharge is ten times greater than that estimated for the Missoula Floods, themselves not trifling events, and there may have been profound paleoclimate repercussions from such a significant change in the region’s hydrological status.

Grimm, R. E., and S. L. Painter (2009), On the secular evolution of groundwater on Mars, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L24803, doi:10.1029/2009GL041018.

Grimm and Painter created a 2D pole-to-equator model of subsurface water and carbon dioxide transport, initiated the model by simulating sudden freezing, and then looked at the effects over geologic time scales (secular evolution). According to their abstract, their model predicts water to be found in different places on the Martian landscape than previous ideas had suggested. I guess we’ll just have to go look and see who is right.

Jiang, Xiao-Wei; Wan, Li; Wang, Xu-Sheng; Ge, Shemin; Liu, Jie Effect of exponential decay in hydraulic conductivity with depth on regional groundwater flow Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L24402, doi:10.1029/2009GL041251.

In soils and in the Earth’s crust, hydraulic conductivity (K) generally decreases exponentially with depth. This phenomenon is the result of the compaction and compression of the overlying strata. In this paper, Jiang and colleagues examine the implications such decreases in K on local versus regional groundwater flow systems. They find that the more quickly K decreases, the less water makes into the deeper regional flow systems and local flow systems extend deeper into the subsurface. They suggest that when hydrogeologists try to interpret regional flow problems, that we need to bear in mind the effects of decreasing K on the systems.

Knight, D.B. and Davis, R.E. 2009. Contribution of tropical cyclones to extreme rainfall events in the southeastern United States. J. Geophys. Res., 114, D23102, doi:10.1029/2009JD012511.

Knight and Davis used 25 years of observational, wind-corrected, and reanalysis data for the southeastern Atlantic coastal US states and found that extreme precipitation from tropical storms and hurricanes (TCs) has increased over the study period.  They find that this increase in TC contribution to extreme precipitation is a function of increasing storm wetness and frequency, but not storm duration. If TCs are producing more precipitation, their flood hazards are also increasing, and flooding is already the leading cause of deaths associated with TCs.

Meade, R.H. and Moody, J.A. 2009. Causes for the decline of suspended-sediment discharge in the Mississippi River system, 1940-2007. Hydrological Processes. 24, 35-49. doi:10.1002/hyp.7477

Dams on the Missouri and Upper Mississippi Rivers have been blamed for trapping almost 2/3 of the sediment that used to reach the Lower Mississippi and Delta.  Here, Meade and Moody show that the dams are only trapping half of the missing sediment, while engineering practices such as bank revetments and meander cutoffs, combined with better erosion control practices in the drainage basin, probably account for the rest. Meade and Moody suggest that this river system, in the largest basin in North America, has been transformed from transport-limited to supply-limited, which is a pretty amazing fundamental shift in the behavior of the river and its ability to deliver sediments to the Gulf of Mexico. [Note that there’s another article in the same issue on “A quarter century of declining suspended sediment fluxes in the Mississippi River and the effect of the 1993 flood.” Both articles are in the public domain and not subject to US copyright laws, though there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to take advantage of that from the Wiley website.]

Neumann, R.B.,  Ashfaque, A.N,  Badruzzaman, A. B. M.,  Ali, M.A.,  Shoemaker, J.K., and Harvey, C.F. 2010. Anthropogenic influences on groundwater arsenic concentrations in Bangladesh, Nature Geoscience 3, 46-52. doi:10.1038/ngeo685

The story of groundwater of southeast Asia’s deltas, where tens of millions of people live at risk of arsenic poisoning from their drinking water, is perhaps the most compelling contemporary scientific story of how geology, geomorphology, hydrology, and humans intertwine. It’s also an extremely complicated story, with arsenic-laden sediment from the Himalayas settling in the deltas , irrigated rice fields and ponds  changing the local groundwater flow patterns, and microbially mediated oxidation of organic carbon driving the geochemical release of the arsenic into the groundwater. This story has been being pieced together in many papers in the last several years, and in this paper Neumann et al. show that groundwater recharge from the ponds, but not the rice fields, draws the organic carbon into the shallow aquifer, and then groundwater flow modified by pumping brings the carbon to the depths with the greatest dissolved arsenic concentrations. Add some biogeochemistry data, isotope tracing of source waters, incubation experiments, and 3-D flow modeling, and this paper adds some important elements to our understanding of how this public health risk came to be – and how we might be able to mitigate the risks for the people who have little choice but to drink the water from their local wells. [Also note that the same issue of Nature Geosciences has another article on “arsenic relase from paddy soils during monsoon flooding” as well as an editorial, commentary, backstory, and news and views piece on the southeast Asia arsenic problem.]

Pritchard, D., G. G. Roberts, N. J. White, and C. N. Richardson (2009), Uplift histories from river profiles, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L24301, doi:10.1029/2009GL040928.

In rivers that have adjusted to their tectonic and climatic regimes, the long profile of a river is smooth and concave. The interesting places are where river profiles don’t look like that ideal. This paper interprets river longitudinal profiles as a way to understand the tectonic uplift history of the area, through a non-linear equation. They check their interpretation against an independently constrained uplift history for a river in Angola.

Stone, R. 2009. Peril in the Pamirs. Science 326(5960): 1614-1617. doi: 10.1126/science.326.5960.1614

Dave Petley at Dave’s Landslide Blog has the must-read summary of this article on the risks associated with the giant lake impounded by the world’s tallest landslide dam. This is seriously fascinating stuff. I already talked a bit about the Usoi Dam in my dam-break floods spiel in my Fluvial Processes class, and now I have more ammunition for this year’s crop of students. In the same issue of Science, Stone also summarizes some of the other water issues facing Central Asia.

Please note that I can’t read the full article of AGU publications (including WRR, JGR, and GRL) until July 2010 or the print issue arrives in my institution’s library. Summaries of those articles are based on the abstract only. UNC Charlotte also does not have access to Nature Geoscience.

My picks of the November literature

It is not that there was no October literature to pick. My time to read articles simply disappeared in the lead-up to and excitement of the Geological Society of America meeting. This month, however, I am back on track and I will try to update this post as I move through the last few weeks of November.

Fussel, H-M. 2009. An updated assessment of the risks from climate change based on research published since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Climatic Change (2009) 97:469–482. doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9648-5
The takeaway message is this: While some topics are still under debate (e.g., changes to tropical cyclones), most recent research indicates that things are looking even worse now than we thought a few years ago. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than we anticipated, and we have already committed to substantial warming, which is currently somewhat masked by high aerosol concentrations. It is increasingly urgent to find mitigation and adaptation strategies. Not good.

Gardner, LR. 2009. Assessing the effect of climate change on mean annual runoff. Journal of Hydrology. 379 (3-4): 351-359. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.10.021
This fascinating article starts by showing a strong correlation (r2 = 0.94) between mean annual runoff and a function of potential evapotranspiration and precipitation. The author then goes on to derive an equation that shows how temperature increases can be used to calculate the change in evapotranspiration, therefore solving the water budget and allowing the calculation of the change in mean annual runoff. Conversely, the same equation can be used to solve for the necessary increase in precipitation to sustain current runoff under different warming scenarios.

Schuler, T. V., and U. H. Fischer. 2009.Modeling the diurnal variation of tracer transit velocity through a subglacial channel, J. Geophys. Res., 114, F04017, doi:10.1029/2008JF001238.
The authors made multiple dye tracer injections into a glacial moulin and then measured discharge and tracer breakthrough at the proglacial channel. They found strong hysteresis in the relationship between tracer velocity and proglacial discharge and attributed this hysteresis to the adjustment of the size of a subglacial Röthlisberger channel to hydraulic conditions that change over the course of the day. Cool!

Bense, V. F., G. Ferguson, and H. Kooi (2009), Evolution of shallow groundwater flow systems in areas of degrading permafrost, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L22401, doi:10.1029/2009GL039225.
Warming temperatures in the Arctic and sub-arctic are lowering the permafrost table and activating shallow groundwater systems, causing increasing baseflow discharge of Arctic rivers. This paper shows how the groundwater flow conditions adjust to lowering permafrost over decades to centuries and suggests that even if air temperatures are stabilized, baseflow discharge will continue to increase for a long time.

Soulsby, Tetzlaff, and Hrachowitz. Tracers and transit times: Windows for viewing catchment scale storage. Hydrological Processes. 23(24): 3503 – 3507. doi: 10.1002/hyp.7501
In this installment of Hydrological Processes series of excellent invited commentaries, Soulsby and colleagues remind readers that although flux measurements have been the major focus of hydrologic science for decades, it is storage that is most relevant for applied water resources problems. They show that tracer-derived estimates of mean transit time combined with streamflow measurements can be used to calculate the amount of water stored in the watershed. They use their long-term study watersheds in the Scottish Highlands to illustrate how transit time and storage scale together and correlate with climate, physiography, and soils in the watersheds. Finally, they argue that while such tracer-derived storage estimates have uncertainties and are not a panacea, they do show promise across a range of scales and geographies.

Chatanantavet, P., and G. Parker (2009), Physically based modeling of bedrock incision by abrasion, plucking, and macroabrasion, J. Geophys. Res., 114, F04018, doi:10.1029/2008JF001044.
Over the past 2 decades, geomorphologists have developed much better insight into the landscape evolution of mountainous areas by developing computerized landscape evolution models. A key component of such models is the stream power rule for bedrock incision, but some have complained that is not physically based enough to describe. In this paper, the authors lay out a new model for bedrock incision based on the mechanisms of abrasion, plucking, and macroabrasion (fracturing and removal of rock by the impact of moving sediment) and incorporating the hydrology and hydraulics of mountain rivers. This could be an influential paper.

Payn, R. A., M. N. Gooseff, B. L. McGlynn, K. E. Bencala, and S. M. Wondzell (2009), Channel water balance and exchange with subsurface flow along a mountain headwater stream in Montana, United States, Water Resour. Res., 45, W11427, doi:10.1029/2008WR007644.

Tracer tests were conducted along 13 continuous reaches of a mountain stream to quantify gross change in discharge versus net loss and net gain. Interestingly, the change in discharge over some reaches did not correspond to calculations of net loss or net gain based on tracer recovery. These results suggests that commonly used methods for estimating exchange with subsurface flow may not be representing all fluxes. Bidirectional exchange with the subsurface, like that found in this paper, is likely to be very important for nutrient processing and benthic ecology.

Please note that I can’t read the full article of AGU publications (including WRR, JGR, and GRL) until July 2010 or the print issue arrives in my institution’s library. Summaries of those articles are based on the abstract only.