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Subsurface Flow and Transport Through a Snowmelt-recharged Hillslope Constrained with Multiyear Water Balance
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  • Tetsu K Tokunaga,
  • Jiamin Wan,
  • Phuong Anh Tran,
  • Wenming Dong,
  • Alexander Newman,
  • Curtis A Beutler,
  • Wendy S Brown,
  • Amanda Henderson,
  • Kenneth Hurst Williams
Tetsu K Tokunaga
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Jiamin Wan
Energy Geosciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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Phuong Anh Tran
Department of Water Research Engineering and Technology, Water Research Institute
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Wenming Dong
Lawrence Berkeley Natiional Laboratory
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Alexander Newman
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
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Curtis A Beutler
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
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Wendy S Brown
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
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Amanda Henderson
Rock Mountain Biological Laboratory
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Kenneth Hurst Williams
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (DOE)
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Quantifying flow and transport from hillslopes is vital for understanding surface water quality, but remains obscure because of limited subsurface measurements. A recent combination of water mass balance over a single year with the transmissivity feedback model for a lower montane hillslope in the East River watershed (Colorado) left large uncertainties in transmissivities and predicted fluxes. Because snowmelt drives subsurface flow on this hillslope, improved constraints on the transmissivity profile were obtained by optimizing flux predictions over years having large differences in precipitation minus evapotranspiration. The optimized field-scale hydraulic properties combined with water table elevations predict groundwater discharges that are consistent with wide ranges of snowmelt. As snowmelt rapidly raises the water table, solutes released primarily through bedrock weathering are largely transported out of the hillslope via its highly transmissive soil. Such pulsed water and solute exports along the soil are minimized during snow drought years. Although solute concentrations generally are lower in soils relative to the underlying weathering zone, solute exports during high recharge occur predominantly via soil because of its enlarged transmissivities under snowmelt-saturated conditions. In contrast, this shallow pathway is negligible when recharge and water table elevations are low. The multiyear calibrated subsurface properties combined with updated pore water chemistry continue to show that the weathering zone is the primary source of base cations and reactive nitrogen released from the hillslope. Subsurface export predictions can now be obtained for wide ranges of snowmelt based on measurements of water table elevation and profiles of pore water chemistry.