LIFE IN THE RAIN SHADOW: UNDERSTANDING SOURCES OF RECHARGE, GROUNDWATER FLOW, AND THEIR EFFECTS ON GROUNDWATER DEPENDENT ECOSYSTEMS IN THE PANAMINT RANGE, DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA, USA
Despite its location in the rain shadow of the southern Sierra Nevada, the Panamint Range within Death Valley National Park, CA hosts a complex aquifer system that supports numerous springs. These springs, in turn, support unique groundwater-dependent ecological communities. Spring emergences range in elevation from 2434 m above sea level (within the mountain block) to 77 m below sea level (in the adjacent basins). Waters were collected from representative Panamint Range springs and analyzed for environmental isotopes and geochemical tracers to address the following questions: 1) What is the primary source of recharge for the springs? How much recharge occurs on the Panamint Range? 2) What groundwater flowpaths and geologic units support springflow generation? and 3) What are the residence times of the springs? The stable isotopic composition (δ18O and δ2H) of spring water and precipitation indicate that localized high-elevation snowmelt is the dominant source of recharge to these perennial springs, though recharge from rainfall is not wholly insignificant. Geochemical evolution was evaluated using principle component analysis to compare the concentrations of all major spring cations and anions in a multidimensional space and group them according to dominant geochemical signatures. These resulting geochemical groups are controlled primarily by topography. The Noonday Dolomite and other carbonate units in the range are identified as the water-bearing units in the mountain block based on the 87Sr/86Sr of spring waters and rock samples. These units also offer higher hydraulic conductivities than other formations and are chemically similar. Radiocarbon- and 3H derived residence times of these spring waters range from modern to approximately 1840 years, with the shortest residence times at higher altitudes and Hanaupah Canyon and increasing residence times with decreasing altitude. This residence time-altitude relationship is likewise likely topography-driven though there are significant disparities in mountain block storage between the various canyons of the range resulting in variable residence times between drainages. Lower Warm Springs A and B, however, are the exceptions to this trend as they emerge at lower altitudes (750m above sea level) and are likely driven by the transport of groundwater to the surface along faults which increases both the temperature and groundwater residence times of waters from these springs. Benthic macroinvertebrates and benthic and planktonic microbes were also sampled for each spring studied. BMI and microbial community structure in the Panamint Range is likewise topography-controlled with more tolerant communities at lower elevations (within more chemically evolved waters) and less tolerant species in the unevolved waters at higher elevations.