Sawyer, A.H., L.A. Kaplan, O. Lazareva, and H.A. Michael. 2014. Water Resources Journal 50(6):4877–4892.
Storms dominate solute export budgets from catchments and drive hydrogeochemical changes in the near-stream environment. We captured near-stream hydrogeochemical dynamics during an intense storm (Hurricane Sandy, October 2012), by instrumenting a riparian-hyporheic zone transect of White Clay Creek in the Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory with pressure transducers, redox probes, and pore water samplers. In the floodplain aquifer, preferential vertical flow paths such as macropores facilitated rapid infiltration early in the storm. Water table rose quickly and promoted continuous groundwater discharge to the stream. Floodplain-hillslope topography controlled poststorm aquifer drainage rates, as the broad, western floodplain aquifer drained more slowly than the narrow, eastern floodplain aquifer adjacent to a steep hillslope. These changes in groundwater flow drove heterogeneous geochemical responses in the floodplain aquifer and hyporheic zone. Vertical infiltration in the floodplain and hyporheic exchange in the streambed increased DOC and oxygen delivery to microbially active sediments, which may have enhanced respiration. Resulting geochemical perturbations persisted from days to weeks after the storm. Our observations suggest that groundwater-borne solute delivery to streams during storms depends on unique interactions of vertical infiltration along preferential pathways, perturbations to groundwater geochemistry, and topographically controlled drainage rates.