The hydrology of alpine and subalpine areas in the Colorado Front Range (USA) is evolving, driven by warming and by the alteration of precipitation patterns, the timing of snowmelt, and other components of the hydrologic budget. Field measurements of soil hydraulic conductivity and moisture along 30-m transects (n
= 13) of representative soils developed in surficial deposits and falling head slug tests of shallow groundwater in till demonstrate that hydraulic conductivity in the soil is comparable to hydraulic conductivity values in the shallow aquifer. Soil hydraulic conductivity values were variable (medians ranged from 5.6 × 10−7
to 4.96 × 10−5
) and increased in alpine areas underlain by periglacial deposits. Hydraulic conductivities measured by a modified Hvorslev technique in test wells ranged from 4.86 × 10−7
to 1.77 × 10−4
in subalpine till. The results suggest a gradient from higher hydraulic conductivity in alpine zones, where short travel paths through periglacial deposits support ephemeral streams and wetlands, to lower hydraulic conductivity in the till-mantled subalpine zone. In drier downstream areas, streambed infiltration contributes substantially to near-channel groundwater. As summer temperatures and evapotranspiration (ET) increase and snowmelt occur earlier, alpine soils are likely to become more vulnerable to drought, and groundwater levels in the critical zone may lower, affecting the connectivity between late-melting snow, meltwater streams, and the areas they affect downstream.
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