Mechanisms of consistently disjunct soil water pools over (pore) space and time

Sprenger, Matthias; Llorens, Pilar; Cayuela, Carles; Gallart, Francesc; Latron, Jérôme

The storage and release of water in soils is critical for sustaining plant transpiration and groundwater recharge. However, how much subsurface mixing of water occurs, and how much of the water is available for plants or otherwise percolates to streams and the groundwater is not yet understood. Based on stable isotope (2H and 18O) data, some studies have found that water infiltrating into soils can bypass older pore water. However, the mechanisms leading to the separation of water routed to the streams and water held tightly in smaller pores are still unclear. Here, we address the current limitations of the understanding of subsurface mixing and their consequences regarding the application of stable isotopes in ecohydrological studies. We present an extensive data set, for which we sampled the isotopic composition of mobile and bulk soil water in parallel with groundwater at a fortnightly temporal resolution and stream water and rainfall at a much higher resolution in a Mediterranean long-term research catchment, in Vallcebre, Spain. The data reveal that the mobile and tightly bound water of a silty loam soil in a Scots pine forest do not mix well; however, they constitute two disjunct subsurface water pools with little exchange, despite intense rainfall events leading to high soil wetness. We show that the isotopic compartmentalization results from the rewetting of small soil pores by isotopically depleted winter/spring rain. Thus, stable isotopes, and, in turn, water residence times, do not only vary across soil depth, but also across soil pores. Our findings have important implications for stable isotope applications in ecohydrological studies assessing the water uptake by plants or the process realism of hydrological models, as the observed processes are currently rarely implemented in the simulation of water partitioning into evapotranspiration and recharge in the critical zone.

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Sprenger, Matthias / Llorens, Pilar / Cayuela, Carles / et al: Mechanisms of consistently disjunct soil water pools over (pore) space and time. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Matthias Sprenger et al.

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