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Taking heat (downstream): Simulating groundwater and thermal equilibrium controls on annual paired air–water temperature signal transport in headwater streams

June 7, 2024

Headwater stream temperature often exhibits spatial variation at the kilometer-scale, but the relative importance of the underlying hydrogeological processes and riverine perturbations remains poorly understood. In this study, we investigated the relative importance of groundwater (GW) and other processes on downstream annual stream temperature signal characteristics using deterministic heat budget model (HFLUX) scenarios within an idealized stream reach representative of mountainous forested conditions. We summarized annual stream thermal regimes from the relationship of paired sinusoidal air and water temperature signals (amplitude ratio, phase lag, and mean ratio). Results showed that downstream changes in annual temperature depended on the thermal gradient between water and the hypothetical equilibrium temperature (where all heat fluxes sum to zero). GW inflow, riparian shading, and the boundary input signal were the most significant factors affecting downstream annual water temperature signals, while flow volume and channel dimensions impacted how quickly annual temperature signals changed. Effects of GW were dominated by advective rather than conductive heat exchange processes, but conduction played a larger role when GW input was more spatially diffuse. Our results indicated several mechanisms by which local processes may affect stream thermal resilience to disturbances and can help guide management of wildfire and climate change.

Publication Year 2024
Title Taking heat (downstream): Simulating groundwater and thermal equilibrium controls on annual paired air–water temperature signal transport in headwater streams
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2024.131391
Authors Zachary Johnson, Martin Briggs, Craig D. Snyder, Brittany G. Johnson, Nathaniel P. Hitt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70254846
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center