Rock glaciers are increasingly influencing the hydrology and water chemistry of Alpine catchments. During three consecutive summers (2017–2019), we monitored by recording probes and fortnightly/monthly field campaigns the physical and chemical conditions of two rock glacier springs (ZRG, SRG) in the Zay and Solda/Sulden catchments (Eastern Italian Alps). The springs have contrasting hydrological conditions with ZRG emerging with evident ponding (pond‐like), and SRG being a typical high‐elevation seep (stream‐like). Water temperature was constantly low (mean 1.2°C, standard deviation 0.1°C) at both springs. Concentrations of major ions (dominated by SO42−, HCO3−, Ca2+ and Mg2+) and trace elements (As, Sr, Ba, U, Rb) increased, and water became more enriched in heavy stable isotopes (δ18O, δ2H) towards autumn. This solute and isotopic enrichment had an asymptotic trend at SRG, and a unimodal pattern at ZRG, where peaks occurred 60–80 days after the snowmelt end. Wavelet analysis of electrical conductivity (EC) and water temperature records revealed daily cycles only at SRG, and significant weekly/biweekly fluctuations at both springs attributable to oscillations of meteorological conditions. Several rainfall events triggered a transient (0.5–2 h) EC drop (of 5–240 μS cm−1) and water temperature rise (of 0.2–1.4°C) at SRG (dilution and warming), whereas only intense rainfall events occasionally increased EC (by 15–85 μS cm−1) at ZRG (solute enrichment and thermal buffering), with a long‐lasting effect (6–48 h). Building on previous research, we suggest that rock glacier springs with differing flow conditions, that is, stream‐like and pond‐like, have contrasting fluctuations of water parameters at different timescales. Thus, for pond‐like springs, peaks of EC/solute concentrations might indicate a seasonal window of major permafrost thaw. Our quantitative description of the hydrochemical seasonality in rock glacier outflows and the physical and chemical response to precipitation events provides relevant information for water management in mountain areas under climate change.

Contrasting physical and chemical conditions of two rock glacier springs / Brighenti, Stefano; Engel, Michael; Tolotti, Monica; Bruno, Maria Cristina; Wharton, Geraldene; Comiti, Francesco; Tirler, Werner; Cerasino, Leonardo; Bertoldi, Walter. - In: HYDROLOGICAL PROCESSES. - ISSN 0885-6087. - 35:4(2021), pp. e14159.1-e14159.18. [10.1002/hyp.14159]

Contrasting physical and chemical conditions of two rock glacier springs

Brighenti, Stefano;Bruno, Maria Cristina;Cerasino, Leonardo;Bertoldi, Walter
2021-01-01

Abstract

Rock glaciers are increasingly influencing the hydrology and water chemistry of Alpine catchments. During three consecutive summers (2017–2019), we monitored by recording probes and fortnightly/monthly field campaigns the physical and chemical conditions of two rock glacier springs (ZRG, SRG) in the Zay and Solda/Sulden catchments (Eastern Italian Alps). The springs have contrasting hydrological conditions with ZRG emerging with evident ponding (pond‐like), and SRG being a typical high‐elevation seep (stream‐like). Water temperature was constantly low (mean 1.2°C, standard deviation 0.1°C) at both springs. Concentrations of major ions (dominated by SO42−, HCO3−, Ca2+ and Mg2+) and trace elements (As, Sr, Ba, U, Rb) increased, and water became more enriched in heavy stable isotopes (δ18O, δ2H) towards autumn. This solute and isotopic enrichment had an asymptotic trend at SRG, and a unimodal pattern at ZRG, where peaks occurred 60–80 days after the snowmelt end. Wavelet analysis of electrical conductivity (EC) and water temperature records revealed daily cycles only at SRG, and significant weekly/biweekly fluctuations at both springs attributable to oscillations of meteorological conditions. Several rainfall events triggered a transient (0.5–2 h) EC drop (of 5–240 μS cm−1) and water temperature rise (of 0.2–1.4°C) at SRG (dilution and warming), whereas only intense rainfall events occasionally increased EC (by 15–85 μS cm−1) at ZRG (solute enrichment and thermal buffering), with a long‐lasting effect (6–48 h). Building on previous research, we suggest that rock glacier springs with differing flow conditions, that is, stream‐like and pond‐like, have contrasting fluctuations of water parameters at different timescales. Thus, for pond‐like springs, peaks of EC/solute concentrations might indicate a seasonal window of major permafrost thaw. Our quantitative description of the hydrochemical seasonality in rock glacier outflows and the physical and chemical response to precipitation events provides relevant information for water management in mountain areas under climate change.
2021
4
Brighenti, Stefano; Engel, Michael; Tolotti, Monica; Bruno, Maria Cristina; Wharton, Geraldene; Comiti, Francesco; Tirler, Werner; Cerasino, Leonardo; Bertoldi, Walter
Contrasting physical and chemical conditions of two rock glacier springs / Brighenti, Stefano; Engel, Michael; Tolotti, Monica; Bruno, Maria Cristina; Wharton, Geraldene; Comiti, Francesco; Tirler, Werner; Cerasino, Leonardo; Bertoldi, Walter. - In: HYDROLOGICAL PROCESSES. - ISSN 0885-6087. - 35:4(2021), pp. e14159.1-e14159.18. [10.1002/hyp.14159]
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