Response characteristics of DOC flushing in an alpine catchment

Elizabeth W. Boyer, George M. Hornberger, Kenneth E. Bencala, Diane M. Mcknight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

352 Scopus citations


The spatial distribution of source areas and associated residence times of water in the catchment are significant factors controlling the annual cycles of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration in Deer Creek (Summit County, Colorado). During spring snowmelt (April-August 1992), stream DOC concentrations increased with the rising limb of the hydrograph, peaked before maximum discharge, then declined rapidly as melting continued. We investigated catchment sources of DOC to streamflow, measuring DOC in tension lysimeters, groundwater wells, snow and streamflow. Lysimeter data indicate that near-surface soil horizons are a primary contributor of DOC to streamflow during spring snowmelt. Concentrations of DOC in the lysimeters decrease rapidly during the melt period, supporting the hypothesis that hydrological flushing of catchment soils is the primary mechanism affecting the temporal variation of DOC in Deer Creek. Time constants of DOC flushing, characterizing the exponential decay of DOC concentration in the upper soil horizon, ranged from 10 to 30 days for the 10 lysimeter sites. Differences in the rate of flushing are influenced by topographical position, with near-stream riparian soils flushed more quickly than soils located further upslope. Variation in the amount of distribution of accumulated snow, and asynchronous melting of the snowpack across the landscape, staggered the onset of the spring flush throughout the catchment, prolonging the period of increased concentrations of DOC in the stream. Streamflow integrates the catchment-scale flushing responses, yielding a time constant associated with the recession of DOC in the stream channel (84 days) that is significantly longer than the time constants observed for particular locations in the upper soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1635-1647
Number of pages13
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 15 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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