Distribution of Soil Water Dynamics in a Small Mountain Catchment

Publication Date

Spring 2005

Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Geophysics



Major Advisor

James McNamara


This thesis was designed to improve our understanding and prediction of streamflow timing and amount in mountainous, snow-dominated watersheds as affected by soil and vegetation properties. "Distribution of Soil Moisture Dynamics in a Small Mountain Catchment" is presented in four chapters: The first chapter provides background detailing soil hydrology, with brief descriptions of literature investigating related scientific inquiries. Chapter two is a paper investigating the role of spatial and temporal soil water distribution in context with site characteristics; explains field methods for soil water data acquisition; provides data analysis and scientific methods for investigating the objectives; and shows results relating to soil water states. The third chapter details the evaluation of a vertical, soil water balance model. The modeling effort presents implications of distributing heterogeneous factors such as soil water storage and water input, which affect streamflow timing and quantity. The fourth section gives concluding remarks with a summary of overall findings, suggests the integral nature between investigation of patterns and process, and then proposes recommendations based on these findings. This final section also outlines possible future studies using this research as a foundation.

The objectives from the two main papers in this thesis are cooperative and interrelated, providing different perspectives into the regional water cycle on temporal and spatial scales. This research provides a statistical representation and geographically distributed database of the relationship between elevation, vegetation, and the water cycle—specifically soil moisture—for the small-scale, semi-arid sub catchment of Reynolds Mountain East. The statistical findings are then related to a vertical, soil water balance model in context of source processes of soil water and the implications of distributed modeling. Generally speaking, the data set is valuable to hydrologic process research as an ecohydrologic perspective; linking model development, calibration, validation, and assessment of change over time. The modeling effort and resultant knowledge may be applied to management for fire regimes, grazing, and other land use issues.

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