Headwater catchments in the Andes provide critical sources of water for downstream areas with large agricultural communities dependent upon irrigation. Data from such remote headwater catchments are sparse, and there is limited understanding of their hydrological function to guide sustainable water management. Here, we present the findings of repeat synoptic tracer surveys as rapid appraisal tools to understand dominant hydrological flow paths in the semi-arid Rio Grande basin, a 572-km2 headwater tributary of the 11,696-km2 Limarí basin in central Chile. Stable isotopes in stream water show a typical altitudinal effect, with downstream enrichment in δ2H and δ18O ratios. Seasonal signals are displayed in the isotopic composition of the springtime melting season water line with a steeper gradient, whilst evaporative effects are represented by lower seasonal gradients for autumn and summer. Concentrations of solutes indexed by electrical conductivity indicate that there are limited contributions of deeper mineralised groundwater to streamflow and that weathering rates vary in the different sub-catchments. Although simplistic, the insights gained from the study could be used to inform the structure and parameterisation of rainfall runoff models to provide seasonal discharge predictions as an evidence base for decision making in local water management.
- Mountainous runoff generation
- Semi-arid central Chile
- Stable isotopes
- Steep elevation gradient