Land & Environment

New USU Study Illuminates Subsurface Dynamics in Karst Mountain Watersheds

Snowmelt at Second Dam in Logan Canyon, Utah, a karst mountain watershed.

Researchers from Utah State University and the Utah Water Research Laboratory recently published a new study that aims to help communities more accurately predict streamflow patterns in karst mountain watersheds.

Their research focuses on understanding how snowmelt and groundwater interactions drive streamflow in these complex terrains, which is important for managing critical water resources, especially as climate change affects rain and snow patterns.

Karst mountain watersheds, like the Logan River in northern Utah, are characterized by limestone geology that form large underground conduits that can store and transport large volumes of water, making the hydrology notoriously difficult for scientists to model.

Numerical models can help predict karst spring discharge, but they are resource-intensive and geographically constrained, making them impractical for consistent use. Because the specific structure of karst aquifers often cannot be adequately physically observed or modelled, analyses of measurable variables such as streamflow, stream water quality and snowmelt provide an alternative approach to characterize these systems.

The team at USU has found a new way to characterize karst streamflow patterns by using readily available surface water and climatic data to create an accessible, practical tool for scientists and water managers.

Using data from the Logan River Observatory and USGS gauging systems, the researchers were able to combine continuous discharge and specific conductance measurements with snowmelt predictions to study how these factors affect seasonal streamflow in the watershed.

The findings propose a new conceptual framework to better predict streamflow in these complex terrains using measurable data, emphasizing the influence of conduit flow direction, aquifer storage capacity, and connectivity on watershed behavior.

This method not only enhances predictive capabilities but also provides insights into the climate sensitivity of karst watersheds, which is crucial for adapting to changing environmental conditions. This innovative approach aims to improve water resource management in karst regions globally.

For more details, read the full research article published in Hydrological Processes.

CONTACT

Belize Lane
Assistant Professor
Utah Water Research Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
650-520-4584
belize.lane@usu.edu


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Research 900stories Environment 270stories Water 268stories Climate 153stories

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