Testing hidden assumptions of representativeness in reach-scale studies of hyporheic exchange

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
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Becker, Paige S.; Ward, Adam S.; Herzog, Skuyler P.; Wondzell, Steven. M. 2023. Testing hidden assumptions of representativeness in reach-scale studies of hyporheic exchange. Water Resources Research. 59: (e2022WR032718). doi:https://doi.org/10.1029/2022WR032718


Abstract Field studies of hyporheic exchange in mountain systems are often conducted using short study reaches and a limited number of observations. It is common practice to assume these study reaches represent hyporheic exchange at larger scales or different sites and to infer general relationships among potential causal mechanisms from the limited number of observations. However, these assumptions of representativeness are rarely tested. In this study, we develop numerical models from four segments of mountain streams in different geomorphologic settings and extract shorter reaches to test how representative exchange metrics are in shorter reaches compared to their reference segments. We also map the locations of the representative reaches to determine if a pattern exists based on location. Finally, we compare variance of these shorter within-site reaches to 29 additional reaches across the same basin to understand the impacts of inferring causal mechanisms, for example, the expectation that wide and narrow valley bottoms will yield different hyporheic exchange patterns. Our results show that the location and length strategy of the study reach must be considered before assuming an exchange metric to be representative of anything other than the exact segment studied. Further, it is necessary to quantify within and between site variations before making causal inferences based on observable characteristics, such as valley width or stream morphology. Our findings have implications for future field practices and how those practices are translated into models.