Headwater stream length dynamics across four physiographic provinces of the Appalachian Highlands
Jensen, Carrie K.
McGuire, Kevin J.
Prince, Philip S.
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Understanding patterns of expansion, contraction, and disconnection of headwater stream length in diverse settings is invaluable for the effective management of water resources as well as for informing research in the hydrology, ecology, and biogeochemistry of temporary streams. More accurate mapping of the stream network and quantitative measures of flow duration in the vast headwater regions facilitate implementation of water quality regulation and other policies to protect waterways. We determined the length and connectivity of the wet stream and geomorphic channel network in three forested catchments (<75 ha) in each of four physiographic provinces of the Appalachian Highlands: the New England, Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, and Blue Ridge. We mapped wet stream length seven times at each catchment to characterize flow conditions between exceedance probabilities of <5% and >90% of the mean daily discharge. Stream network dynamics reflected geologic controls at both regional and local scales. Wet stream length was most variable at two Valley and Ridge catchments on a shale scarp slope and changed the least in the Blue Ridge. The density and source area of flow origins differed between the crystalline and sedimentary physiographic provinces, as the Appalachian Plateau and Valley and Ridge had fewer origins with much larger contributing areas than New England and the Blue Ridge. However, the length and surface connectivity of the wet stream depended on local lithology, geologic structure, and the distribution of surficial deposits such as boulders, glacially-derived material, and colluival debris or sediment valley fills. Several proxies indicate the magnitude of stream length dynamics, including bankfull channel width, network connectivity, the base flow index, and the ratio of geomorphic channel to wet stream length. Consideration of geologic characteristics at multiple spatial scales is imperative for future investigations of flow intermittency in headwaters.