Contribution of glacier meltwater to streamflow in the Wind River Range, Wyoming, inferred via a Bayesian mixing model applied to isotopic measurements

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The Wind River Range (WRR) of Wyoming has the largest concentration of alpine glaciers in the American Rockies and contributes to several major river systems in the western United States. Declines in the areal extent and volume of these glaciers are well documented, and eventual loss of alpine glaciers will reduce the amount of water available for agricultural and domestic use. The contribution of glacial melt to streamflow remains largely unquantified in Wyoming. We used isotope measurements and Bayesian modeling to estimate the fractional contribution of glacier meltwater to Dinwoody Creek (DC) in the WRR on bi-weekly and seasonal (spring, summer, and fall) time scales over 2 years. In 2007 and 2008, we made temporally intensive measurements of the stable isotope composition of water from the DC watershed. Samples of the primary sources of streamflow (snowmelt, glacier melt, rain, and baseflow) were collected during field campaigns, and automated collection of stream samples occurred over the melt season. Isotope data (D and 18O) were analyzed within a hierarchical Bayesian framework that incorporated temporal and spatial correlations. Glacial melt contributed a significant proportion (˜53–59%) to streamflow in a low-flow year (2007) or when streamflow was low during a high-flow year (2008). In 2008, a large and persistent snowpack contributed significantly (˜0·42–51%) to streamflow in mid-summer. The large contribution of glacial melt to streamflow suggests that the loss of glaciers may impact riparian ecosystems and human water supplies in the late summer and in years with low snowpack. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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