Response time and water origin in a steep nested catchment in the Italian Dolomites

Penna D.; Zuecco G.; Crema S.; Trevisani S.; Cavalli M.; Pianezzola L.; Marchi L.; Borga M., 2017, Response time and water origin in a steep nested catchment in the Italian Dolomites, Hydrological processes (Print) 31 (2017): 768–782. doi_10.1002/hyp.11050,

In this study, we investigate the surface flow time of rise in response to rainfall and snowmelt events at different spatial scales and the main sources originating channel runoff and spring water in a steep nested headwater catchment (Rio Vauz, Italian Dolomites), characterized by a marked elevation gradient. We monitored precipitation at different elevations and measured water stage/streamflow at the outlet of two rocky subcatchments of the same size, representative of the upper part of the catchment dominated by outcropping bedrock, at the outlet of a soil-mantled and vegetated subcatchment of similar size but different morphology, and at the outlet of the main catchment. Hydrometric data are coupled with stable isotopes and electrical conductivity sampled from different water sources during five years, and used as tracers in end-member mixing analysis, application of two component mixing models and analysis of the slope of the dual-isotope regression line. Results reveal that times of rise are slightly shorter for the two rocky subcatchments, particularly for snowmelt and mixed rainfall/snowmelt events, compared to the soil-mantled catchment and the entire Rio Vauz Catchment. The highly-variable tracer signature of the different water sources reflects the geomorphological and geological complexity of the study area. The principal end-members for channel runoff and spring water are identified in rainfall and snowmelt, which are the dominant water sources in the rocky upper part of the study catchment, and soil water and shallow groundwater, which play a relevant role in originating baseflow and spring water in the soil-mantled and vegetated lower part of the catchment. Particularly, snowmelt contributes up to 64 ± 8% to spring water in the concave upper parts of the catchment and up to 62 ± 11% to channel runoff in the lower part of the catchment. These results offer new experimental evidences on how Dolomitic catchments capture and store rain water and meltwater, releasing it through a complex network of surface and subsurface flow pathways, and allow for the construction of a preliminary conceptual model on water transmission in snowmelt-dominated catchments featuring marked elevation gradients.

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