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Groundwater upwelling regulates thermal hydrodynamics and salmonid movements during high-temperature events at a montane tributary confluence

August 25, 2020

The Smith River is a popular recreational sport fishery in western Montana, but salmonid abundances there are thought to be artificially limited by riparian land-use alterations, irrigation water withdrawals, and high summer water temperatures. We used integrated networks of temperature loggers, PIT tag antenna stations, and in situ temperature mapping to investigate the thermal hydrodynamics and associated movements of PIT-tagged salmonids at the confluence of Tenderfoot Creek, a major, unaltered coldwater tributary of the Smith River. Contrary to expectations, Tenderfoot Creek itself was not used as a thermal refuge by salmonids during periods of high water temperatures in Smith River; rather, its cool outflow plume into the main stem was used instead. Mean daily outflow water temperatures averaged 2.9°C lower than those of the Smith River during summer and ranged from 0.5°C to 6.1°C lower. Moreover, measured and estimated temperatures in the outflow were cooler (by up to 2.8°C) than in Tenderfoot Creek itself at times as a result of groundwater upwelling at the confluence. Detections of PIT-tagged fish in the thermal plume increased, especially at night, when daily mean water temperatures exceeded 20°C in the main-stem Smith River; more than four times as many PIT-tagged fish were detected in the plume (N = 52) than along the opposite bank (N = 12), which ostensibly afforded better cover. Coldwater tributary confluences may provide superior thermal refuges for salmonids—cooler than the tributaries themselves—when water temperatures in river main stems are stressful.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Groundwater upwelling regulates thermal hydrodynamics and salmonid movements during high-temperature events at a montane tributary confluence
DOI 10.1002/tafs.10259
Authors Thomas David Ritter, Alexander V. Zale, Grant Grisak, Michael J. Lance
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Transactions of the American Fisheries Society
Series Number
Index ID 70228386
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle

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