Carbon Dynamics in the Hyporheic Zone of a Headwater Mountain Stream in the Cascade Mountains, Oregon

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Corson-Rikert, Hayley A. 2014. Carbon Dynamics in the Hyporheic Zone of a Headwater Mountain Stream in the Cascade Mountains, Oregon. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University. 132 p. M.S. thesis.


This study investigated carbon dynamics in the hyporheic zone of a steep,
forested catchment in the Cascade Mountains of western Oregon, USA. Water samples were collected monthly from a headwater stream and well network during baseflow conditions from July to December 2013 and again in March 2014. We also sampled during one fall storm event, collecting pre-storm, rising leg, and extended high flow samples. The well network is located at the base of Watershed 1 (WS1) of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and spans the full width of the floodplain (~14 m) along a 29 m reach of stream. We measured pH, temperature, water level, major anions, major cations, DOC, DIC, and total alkalinity. Flow paths, travel time to wells and hydraulic conductivity were available from previous studies.

During baseflow periods, hyporheic DOC decreased with median travel time
through the subsurface. DIC concentrations increased with travel time, but the magnitude of this increase in DIC was too large to be explained by metabolism of stream water DOC. This suggests that there are additional sources of DIC and/or DOC in the subsurface, and that hyporheic DIC concentrations are not well linked to stream-source DOC. The most likely supplemental sources of DIC to hyporheic water are soil CO2 and microbial respiration of DOC leached from buried particulate organic matter and from overlying soils. Overall, the hyporheic zone appears to be a source of DIC to the stream.

In summer, the hyporheic zone is likely isolated from vertical infiltration or
lateral inflow of soil water, and particulate organic carbon is not present in stream water. Thus, spatial patterns in hyporheic zone biogeochemistry must result from underlying spatial patterns in hyporheic flowpaths, groundwater inputs, and buried particulate organic carbon. With the transition to the rainy season throughout the fall and early winter, vertical infiltration and leaching of accumulated solutes from the overlying soil appear to become important sources of carbon that help explain patterns in hyporheic zone biogeochemistry.

During a small November storm event, DOC and nitrate concentrations in the
stream displayed clockwise hysteresis. Travel time appeared to be associated with both nitrate and DOC response patterns in the hyporheic zone. In wells with long travel times, DOC and nitrate concentrations showed a clockwise hysteresis pattern that mimicked and even exceeded that observed in the stream. We hypothesize that these solutes were flushed from overlying soils into the hyporheic zone via vertically infiltrating rainwater. In wells with short travel times, we observed only a small peak
in DOC and nitrate concentrations during the storm, potentially due to lateral
infiltration of stream water later in the event.

Overall, temporal patterns in hyporheic solute chemistry during the November storm differed from patterns we observed in the well network. This suggests that whole-watershed processes that controlled stream water chemistry during this storm event were different than those that controlled solute concentrations in the hyporheic zone. Nonetheless, the hyporheic zone must have been linked to the stream. That measurements in our well network reveal a very different response between the stream and the hyporheic zone suggests that: 1) Our hyporheic zone is not representative of stream-hyporheic riparian processes that occur within the larger watershed, or 2) Hillslope-stream or within-stream processes dominate during storms,
and at these times the influence of the hyporheic zone on the stream is much weaker than during baseflow.

During both baseflow and storm periods, the hydrology of the WS1 system is
complex – hyporheic exchange flows follow extended, non-linear flow paths through a heterogeneous subsurface and may be augmented by lateral inflows of groundwater and, during storms, vertical infiltration of soil water. Our results from both baseflow and storm sampling suggest that a complex set of physical mechanisms and biogeochemical processes influence carbon transport and transformation within this hyporheic environment.