Keeping Streams Cool: Disentangling the Impacts of Local Groundwater Discharge vs. Mountain Headwater Contributions During Summer Low Flows
Temperature is a key physical variable in streams that controls rates of metabolic processes and oxygen availability, and therefore the suitability of aquatic ecosystems. During the summer low flow period, stream temperature can be moderated by contributions from cool water sources, such as groundwater discharge and higher elevation headwaters. However, the relative contribution of these cool water sources can be spatially and temporally varying, particularly in snowmelt-dominated, high-relief watersheds. In this study, in situ and remote sensing methods are used to measure the stream temperature along a low elevation section of the North Alouette River (British Columbia, Canada) that passes through a forested area and into an open agricultural area. The methods include temperature loggers placed at the stream surface and streambed interface, and thermal infrared images acquired using a drone and Landsat 8 and 9 satellites. The drone and in situ measurements of stream temperature show good agreement, while the satellite images show the same temperature distribution (cooler in the forested area and warmer downstream in the open agricultural area) but overall shifted temperatures. Areas of mixing of cool and warm waters are identified within the stream channel using the drone imagery. Waters samples analyzed for stable isotopes are used to identify the different source waters and estimate their relative contribution to stream temperature moderation. This fingerprinting is made possible by a precipitation isotope composition-elevation gradient in the catchment. The isotope data support the observations of mixing identified with the temperature data. Understanding of where and when cool water sources contribute to streamflow will be used to inform groundwater allocation decision-making, to ensure that groundwater pumping is minimized in areas where groundwater discharge is critical for moderating stream temperatures.