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Groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration, flow of water in unsaturated soil, and stable isotope water sourcing in areas of sparse vegetation, Amargosa Desert, Nye County, Nevada

August 29, 2017

This report documents methodology and results of a study to evaluate groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration (GWET) in sparsely vegetated areas of Amargosa Desert and improve understanding of hydrologic-continuum processes controlling groundwater discharge. Evapotranspiration and GWET rates were computed and characterized at three sites over 2 years using a combination of micrometeorological, unsaturated zone, and stable-isotope measurements. One site (Amargosa Flat Shallow [AFS]) was in a sparse and isolated area of saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) where the depth to groundwater was 3.8 meters (m). The second site (Amargosa Flat Deep [AFD]) was in a sparse cover of predominantly shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia) where the depth to groundwater was 5.3 m. The third site (Amargosa Desert Research Site [ADRS]), selected as a control site where GWET is assumed to be zero, was located in sparse vegetation dominated by creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) where the depth to groundwater was 110 m.

Results indicated that capillary rise brought groundwater to within 0.9 m (at AFS) and 3 m (at AFD) of land surface, and that GWET rates were largely controlled by the slow but relatively persistent upward flow of water through the unsaturated zone in response to atmospheric-evaporative demands. Greater GWET at AFS (50 ± 20 millimeters per year [mm/yr]) than at AFD (16 ± 15 mm/yr) corresponded with its shallower depth to the capillary fringe and constantly higher soil-water content. The stable-isotope dataset for hydrogen (δ2H) and oxygen (δ18O) illustrated a broad range of plant-water-uptake scenarios. The AFS saltgrass and AFD shadscale responded to changing environmental conditions and their opportunistic water use included the time- and depth-variable uptake of unsaturated-zone water derived from a combination of groundwater and precipitation. These results can be used to estimate GWET in other areas of Amargosa Desert where hydrologic conditions are similar.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Groundwater discharge by evapotranspiration, flow of water in unsaturated soil, and stable isotope water sourcing in areas of sparse vegetation, Amargosa Desert, Nye County, Nevada
DOI 10.3133/sir20175079
Authors Michael T. Moreo, Brian J. Andraski, C. Amanda Garcia
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2017-5079
Index ID sir20175079
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center

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