Climate, Landforms, and Geology Affect Baseflow Sources in a Mountain Catchment

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
Publication Number: 

Segura, Catalina; Noone, David; Warren, Dana; Jones, Julia A.; Tenny, Johnathan; Ganio, Lisa M. 2019. Climate, Landforms, and Geology Affect Baseflow Sources in a Mountain Catchment. Water Resources Research. 55(7): 5238-5254. doi: 10.1029/2018WR023551


Baseflow is essential for stream ecosystems and human water uses, particularly in areas with Mediterranean climates. Yet the factors controlling the temporal and spatial variability of baseflow and its sources are poorly understood. Measurements of oxygen and hydrogen isotopic composition (D18O and D2H) were used to evaluate controls on baseflow in the stream network of a 64-km2 catchment in western Oregon. A total of 607 water samples were collected to contrast baseflow in a year of near average precipitation (2016) to a year with low winter snowpack and subsequent summer drought conditions (2015). Spatial autocorrelation structures and relationships between surface water isotopic signatures and geologic and topographic metrics throughout the network were determined using Spatial Stream Network models. Isotope values varied widely in space and between years, indicating disparate baseflow water sources. During average flow conditions, the spatial variation in D18O was primarily related to elevation, reflecting the influence of prior precipitation and input of water from snowmelt at higher elevation. In contrast, during drought conditions, the spatial variation in D18O was also related to terrain slope and roughness?proxies for local water storage in deep-seated earthflows and other Quaternary deposits. A prominent spring-fed tributary with high unit baseflow discharge illustrated the importance of subsurface water storage in porous volcanic bedrock. As drought increases in a warming climate, baseflow in mountain catchments may become more dependent on storage in geologic and geomorphic features.