Regular Section

Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 107-123

First online:

Hydrologic pathways and chemical composition of runoff during snowmelt in Loch Vale Watershed, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

  • A. Scott DenningAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , Jill BaronAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State UniversityNational park Service, Water Resources Division
  • , M. Alisa MastAffiliated withUnited States Geologic Survey
  • , Mary ArthurAffiliated withCornell University

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Intensive sampling of a stream draining an alpine-subalpine basin revealed that depressions in pH and acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) of surface water at the beginning of the spring snowmelt in 1987 and 1988 were not accompanied by increases in strong acid anions, and that surface waters did not become acidic (ANC<0). Samples of meltwater collected at the base of the snowpack in 1987 were acidic and exhibited distinct ‘pulses’ of nitrate and sulfate. Solutions collected with lysimeters in forest soils adjacent to the stream revealed high levels of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and total Al. Peaks in concentration of DOC, Al, and nutrient species in the stream samples indicate a flush of soil solution into the surface water at the beginning of the melt. Infiltration of meltwater into soils and spatial heterogeneity in the timing of melting across the basin prevented stream and lake waters from becoming acidic.