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  1. Abstract

    Warming across the western United States continues to reduce snowpack, lengthen growing seasons, and increase atmospheric demand, leading to uncertainty about moisture availability in montane forests. As many upland forests have thin soils and extensive rooting into weathered bedrock, deep vadose‐zone water may be a critical late‐season water source for vegetation and mitigate forest water stress. A key impediment to understanding the role of the deep vadose zone as a reservoir is quantifying the plant‐available water held there. We quantify the spatiotemporal dynamics of rock moisture held in the deep vadose zone in a montane catchment of the Rocky Mountains. Direct measurements of rock moisture were accompanied by monitoring of precipitation, transpiration, soil moisture, leaf‐water potentials, and groundwater. Using repeat nuclear magnetic resonance and neutron‐probe measurements, we found depletion of rock moisture among all our monitored plots. The magnitude of growing season depletion in rock moisture mirrored above‐ground vegetation density and transpiration, and depleted rock moisture was from ∼0.3 to 5 m below ground surface. Estimates of storage indicated weathered rock stored at least 4%–12% of mean annual precipitation. Persistent transpiration and discrepancies between estimated soil matric potentials and leaf‐water potentials suggest rock moisture may mitigate drought stress. These findings provide some of the first measurements of rock moisture use in the Rocky Mountains and indicated rock moisture use is not just confined to periods of drought or Mediterranean climates.

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  2. Abstract

    Summer streamflow predictions are critical for managing water resources; however, warming‐induced shifts from snow to rain regimes impact low‐flow predictive models. Additionally, reductions in snowpack drive earlier peak flows and lower summer flows across the western United States increasing reliance on groundwater for maintaining summer streamflow. However, it remains poorly understood how groundwater contributions vary interannually. We quantify recession limb groundwater (RLGW), defined as the proportional groundwater contribution to the stream during the period between peak stream flow and low flow, to predict summer low flows across three diverse western US watersheds. We ask (a) how do snow and rain dynamics influence interannual variations of RLGW contributions and summer low flows?; (b) which watershed attributes impact the effectiveness of RLGW as a predictor of summer low flows? Linear models reveal that RLGW is a strong predictor of low flows across all sites and drastically improves low‐flow prediction compared to snow metrics at a rain‐dominated site. Results suggest that strength of RLGW control on summer low flows may be mediated by subsurface storage. Subsurface storage can be divided into dynamic (i.e., variability saturated) and deep (i.e., permanently saturated) components, and we hypothesize that interannual variability in dynamic storage contribution to streamflow drives RLGW variability. In systems with a higher proportion of dynamic storage, RLGW is a better predictor of summer low flow because the stream is more responsive to dynamic storage contributions compared to deep‐storage‐dominated systems. Overall, including RLGW improved low‐flow prediction across diverse watersheds.

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  3. Abstract

    Understanding the severity and extent of near surface critical zone (CZ) disturbances and their ecosystem response is a pressing concern in the face of increasing human and natural disturbances. Predicting disturbance severity and recovery in a changing climate requires comprehensive understanding of ecosystem feedbacks among vegetation and the surrounding environment, including climate, hydrology, geomorphology, and biogeochemistry. Field surveys and satellite remote sensing have limited ability to effectively capture the spatial and temporal variability of disturbance and CZ properties. Technological advances in remote sensing using new sensors and new platforms have improved observations of changes in vegetation canopy structure and productivity; however, integrating measures of forest disturbance from various sensing platforms is complex. By connecting the potential for remote sensing technologies to observe different CZ disturbance vectors, we show that lower severity disturbance and slower vegetation recovery are more difficult to quantify. Case studies in montane forests from the western United States highlight new opportunities, including evaluating post‐disturbance forest recovery at multiple scales, shedding light on understory vegetation regrowth, detecting specific physiological responses, and refining ecohydrological modeling. Learning from regional CZ disturbance case studies, we propose future directions to synthesize fragmented findings with (a) new data analysis using new or existing sensors, (b) data fusion across multiple sensors and platforms, (c) increasing the value of ground‐based observations, (d) disturbance modeling, and (e) synthesis to improve understanding of disturbance.

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  4. Abstract

    Warming temperatures and precipitation changes are expected to alter water availability and increase drought stress in western North America, yet uncertainties remain in how concurrent changes in the amount and seasonality of precipitation interact with warming to affect hydrologic partitioning. We combined over a century of streamflow (Q) and climate observations with two decades of tree growth data and remotely sensed vegetation activity to quantify how temperature and precipitation interact to control hydrologic partitioning in the Front Range of Colorado, Boulder Creek Watershed. Temperature and precipitation significantly increased over the last five decades, with precipitation increasing primarily in winter (11.2 mm decade−1) and temperature increasing primarily during the growing season (0.12°C decade−1). In response to wetter winters and warmer summers, streamflow decreased −9.8 mm decade−1, with largest declines occurring during summer and autumn baseflow (−8.4 mm decade−1). Spring warming was associated with increases in episodic, short spring melt events, earlier and slower snowmelt and an increase in fraction of precipitation available to plants (catchment wetting or W). Warming during the growing season resulted in an increase in the fraction of W lost as evapotranspiration (ET), earlier and lower peaks in remotely sensed normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and lower tree ring width index (RWI). These analyses highlight that vegetation is becoming increasingly water limited even as increases in precipitation and slower melt increase plant water availability. Further, catchment‐derived metrics like the Horton Index (ET/W) provide insight in to how simultaneous changes in temperature, precipitation and melt impact vegetation across complex watersheds.

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  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  6. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2025
  7. Biogeochemical properties of soils play a crucial role in soil and stream chemistry throughout a watershed. How water interacts with soils during subsurface flow can have impacts on water quality, thus, it is fundamental to understand where and how certain soil water chemical processes occur within a catchment. In this study, ~200 soil samples were evaluated throughout a small catchment in the Front Range of Colorado, USA to examine spatial and vertical patterns in major soil solutes among different landscape units: riparian areas, alluvial/colluvial fans, and steep hillslopes. Solutes were extracted from the soil samples in the laboratory and analyzed for major cation (Li, K, Mg, Br, and Ca) and anion (F, Cl, NO 2 , NO 3 , PO 4 , and SO 4 ) concentrations using ion chromatography. Concentrations of most solutes were greater in near surface soils (10 cm) than in deeper soils (100 cm) across all landscape units, except for F which increased with depth, suggestive of surface accumulation processes such as dust deposition or enrichment due to biotic cycling. Potassium had the highest variation between depths, ranging from 1.04 mg/l (100 cm) to 3.13 mg/l (10 cm) sampled from riparian landscape units. Nearly every solute was found to be enriched in riparian areas where vegetation was visibly denser, with higher mean concentrations than the hillslopes and fans, except for NO 3 which had higher concentrations in the fans. Br, NO 2 , and PO 4 concentrations were often below the detectable limit, and Li and Na were not variable between depths or landscape units. Ratioed stream water concentrations (K:Na, Ca:Mg, and NO 3 :Cl) vs. discharge relationships compared to the soil solute ratios indicated a hydraulic disconnection between the shallow soils (<100 cm) and the stream. Based on the comparisons among depths and landscape units, our findings suggest that K, Ca, F, and NO 3 solutes may serve as valuable tracers to identify subsurface flowpaths as they are distinct among landscape units and depth within this catchment. However, interflow and/or shallow groundwater flow likely have little direct connection to streamflow generation. 
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  8. Internal water storage within trees can be a critical reservoir that helps trees overcome both short- and long-duration environmental stresses. We monitored changes in internal tree water storage in a ponderosa pine on daily and seasonal scales using moisture probes, a dendrometer, and time-lapse electrical resistivity imaging (ERI). These data were used to investigate how patterns of in-tree water storage are affected by changes in sapflow rates, soil moisture, and meteorologic factors such as vapor pressure deficit. Measurements of xylem fluid electrical conductivity were constant in the early growing season while inverted sapwood electrical conductivity steadily increased, suggesting that increases in sapwood electrical conductivity did not result from an increase in xylem fluid electrical conductivity. Seasonal increases in stem electrical conductivity corresponded with seasonal increases in trunk diameter, suggesting that increased electrical conductivity may result from new growth. On the daily scale, changes in inverted sapwood electrical conductivity correspond to changes in sapwood moisture. Wavelet analyses indicated that lag times between inverted electrical conductivity and sapflow increased after storm events, suggesting that as soils wetted, reliance on internal water storage decreased, as did the time required to refill daily deficits in internal water storage. We found short time lags between sapflow and inverted electrical conductivity with dry conditions, when ponderosa pine are known to reduce stomatal conductance to avoid xylem cavitation. A decrease in diel amplitudes of inverted sapwood electrical conductivity during dry periods suggest that the ponderosa pine relied on internal water storage to supplement transpiration demands, but as drought conditions progressed, tree water storage contributions to transpiration decreased. Time-lapse ERI- and wavelet-analysis results highlight the important role internal tree water storage plays in supporting transpiration throughout a day and during periods of declining subsurface moisture. 
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