Spatiotemporal processes that contribute to hydrologic exchange between hillslopes, valley bottoms, and streams

Anna Bergstrom, Kelsey Jencso, Brian McGlynn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Quantifying how watershed structure influences the exchanges of water among component parts of a watershed, particularly the connection between uplands, valley bottoms, and in-stream hydrologic exchange, remains a challenge. However, this understanding is critical for ascertaining the source areas and temporal contributions of water and associated biogeochemical constituents in streams. We used dilution gauging, mass recovery, and recording discharge stations to characterize streamflow dynamics across 52 reaches, from peak snowmelt to base flow, in the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental forest, Montana, USA. We found that watershed-contributing area was only a significant predictor of net changes in streamflow at high moisture states and larger spatial scales. However, at the scale of individual stream reaches, the lateral contributing area in conjunction with underlying lithology and vegetation densities were significant predictors of gross hydrologic gains to the stream. Reach lateral contributing areas underlain by more permeable sandstone yielded less water across flow states relative to those with granite gneiss. Additionally, increases in the frequency of steps across each stream reach contributed to greater hydrologic gross losses. Together, gross gains and losses of water along individual reaches resulted in net changes of discharge that cumulatively scale to the observed outlet discharge dynamics. Our results provide a framework for understanding how hillslope topography, geology, vegetation, and valley bottom structure contribute to the exchange of water and cumulative increases of stream flow across watersheds of increasing size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4628-4645
Number of pages18
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • channel morphology
  • hydrologic gross gain and loss
  • lithology
  • mass recovery
  • watershed scaling


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