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Form and function relationships revealed by long‐term research in a semiarid mountain catchment

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Fifteen years of cumulative research in the Dry Creek Experimental Watershed in southwest Idaho, USA, has revealed relationships between catchment form and function that would not have been possible through independent short‐term projects alone. The impacts of aspect and elevation on incident energy and water, coupled with climate seasonality, have produced tightly connected landform properties and hydrologic processes. North‐facing hillslopes have steeper slope angles, thicker soil mantles, finer soil texture, and higher water holding capacities than their south‐facing counterparts. This trend is modulated by elevation and vegetation; higher elevation sites, where aspect differences in vegetation are less evident, exhibit less distinct hydrologic properties. The storage of water first as snow, then as soil moisture determines how upland ecosystems survive the seasonal and persistent water stress that happens each year, and sustains streamflow throughout the year. The cumulative body of local knowledge has improved general understanding of catchment science, serves as a resource for conceptual and numerical evaluation of process‐based models, and for data‐driven hydrologic education. WIREs Water 2018, 5:e1267. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1267 This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
The Dry Creek Experimental Watershed in southwest Idaho, USA. (a) Map indicating major instrumentation locations. Photographs illustrating general terrain features at (b) high, (c) mid, and (d) low elevations
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Soil column water storage at the aspect‐moisture stations for the 2008–2009 water year. Symbols and error bars indicate the annual means and standard deviations for the entire year for each site
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Soil moisture time series for north (blue) and south (red) facing sites in the aspect‐moisture network. (a) High North (HN) and High South (HS), (b) Mid High North (MHN) and Mid High South (MHS), (c) Mid Low North (MLN) and Mid Low South (MLS), and (d) Low North (LN) and Low South (LS) sites. Solid lines and error bars are the means and standard deviations of all sites and depths at a station. Gaps indicate missing data due to instrument failure
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Aspect‐dependent differences in hydrologic thresholds. (a) Moisture release curves from 32 soil cores collected from a transect across north (n = 16) and south (n = 16) facing slopes (Geroy et al., ). Points and error bars are means and standard deviations, respectively, of volumetric moisture contents for all samples at prescribed tensions in multistep outflow tests. (b) Field capacities determined by methods described by Chandler, Seyfried, McNamara, and Hwang () for the aspect‐moisture network (Figure ). Points and error bars are the means and standard deviations, respectively, of samples from four depths in four pits at four elevations (n = 64)
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A hydrologic year in the DCEW illustrating (a) precipitation at the Treeline site (TL), (b) soil moisture in a pit at the Treeline site (TL), and (c) streamflow measured at the Treeline site (TL) and Lower Gauge (LG). Crosscutting dashed lines separate moisture periods as (1) dry, (2) transitional wet, (3) wet low flux, (4) wet high flux, and (5) transitional dry
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Average monthly values (2012–2016) of precipitation at (a) Bogus Ridge (2114 m), (b) Treeline (1610 m), and (c) Lower Weather (1036 m) meteorological stations, and (d) streamflow at Lower Gauge outlet
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Aspect‐dependent differences in (a) insolation*, (b) slope**, (c) soil thickness*, and (d) texture*. *Data from the aspect‐moisture network (Figure ) as described in Smith et al. (). **Reprinted with permission from Poulos, Pierce, McNamara, and Benner (). Copyright 2017 xxx
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