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Spatial and temporal variation in river corridor exchange across a 5th order mountain stream network

October 7, 2019

Although most field and modeling studies of river corridor exchange have been conducted a scales ranging from 10’s to 100’s of meters; results of these studies are used to predict their ecological and hydrological influences at the scale of river networks. Further complicating prediction, exchanges are expected to vary with hydrologic forcing and the local geomorphic setting. While we desire predictive power, we lack a complete spatiotemporal relationship relating discharge to the variation in geologic setting and hydrologic forcing that are expected across a river basin. Indeed, Wondzell’s (2011) conceptual model predicts systematic variation in river corridor exchange as a function of (1) variation in baseflow over time at a fixed location, (2) variation in discharge with location in the river network, and (3) local geomorphic setting. To test this conceptual model we conducted more than 60 solute tracer studies including a synoptic campaign in the 5th order river network of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest (Oregon, USA) and replicate-in-time experiments in four watersheds. We interpret the data using a series of metrics describing river corridor exchange and solute transport, testing for consistent direction and magnitude of relationships relating these metrics to discharge and local geomorphic setting. We confirmed systematic decrease in river corridor exchange space through the river networks, from headwaters to the larger mainstem. However, we did not find systematic variation with changes in discharge through time, nor with local geomorphic setting. While interpretation of our results is complicated by problems with the analytical methods, they are sufficiently robust for us to conclude that space-for-time and time-for-space substitutions are not appropriate in our study system. Finally, we suggest two strategies that will improve the interpretability of tracer test results and help the hyporheic community develop robust data sets that will enable comparisons across multiple sites and/or discharge conditions.