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Investigating young water fractions in a small Mediterranean mountain catchment: Both precipitation forcing and sampling frequency matter

  • Gallart, F
  • Valiente, M
  • Llorens, P
  • Cayuela, C
  • Sprenger, M
  • Latron, J
Publication Date
Aug 15, 2020
eScholarship - University of California
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© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd The proportion of water younger than 2–3 months (young water fraction, Fyw) has become increasingly investigated in catchment hydrology. Fyw is typically estimated by comparing seasonal tracer cycles in precipitation and streamflow, through water sampling. However, some open research questions remain, such as: (i) whether part of the summer precipitation should be discarded because the high evapotranspiration demand, (ii) how well Fyw serves as a metric to compare catchments, and (iii) how sampling frequency affects Fyw estimates. To address these questions, we investigated Fyw in soil-, ground- and stream waters for the small Mediterranean Can Vila catchment. Rainfall was sampled at 5-mm intervals. Mobile soil water and groundwater were sampled fortnightly. Stream water was sampled depending on flow at variable time intervals (30 min to 1 week). Over 58 months, this sampling provided 1,529 δ18O determinations. Isotopic analyses results led us to include summer precipitation in the input signal. We found the highest Fyw in mobile soil waters (34%), while this was almost zero for groundwater except during wet periods. For stream waters, Fyw depended on the discharge variations, so that the flow-weighted young water fraction ((Formula presented.)) was 22.6%, whereas the time-weighted Fyw was just 6.2%. Both (Formula presented.) and its discharge sensitivity (Sd) varied when different 12-month sampling periods were investigated. The young water fraction that would be obtained from a virtual thorough sampling ((Formula presented.)) was estimated from the Sd and the observed stream flow. This showed an underestimation of (Formula presented.) by 25% for the frequent dynamic sampling and 66% for weekly sampling, due to missing high flows. Our results confirm that Fyw and its discharge sensitivity are metrics very sensitive to meteorological forcing during the analysed period. Thus, comparisons between catchments need long-term mean annual values and their variability. Our findings also support the dependence of Fyw estimates on the sampling rate and show the advantages of flow-weighted analysis. Finally, catchment water turnover investigations should be accompanied by the analysis of flow duration curves.

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