Potential climate change effects on water tables and pyrite oxidation in headwater catchments in Colorado

By: , and 
Edited by: C. Nicholas MedleyGlenn Patterson, and Melanie J. Parker



A water, energy, and biogeochemical model (WEBMOD) was constructed to simulate hydrology and pyrite oxidation for the period October 1992 through September 1997. The hydrologic model simulates processes in Loch Vale, a 6.6-km² granitic watershed that drains the east side of the Continental Divide. Parameters describing pyrite oxidation were derived sulfate concentrations measured in pore water and stream water in Handcart Gulch, a naturally acidic watershed in the Colorado Mineral Belt. Average monthly differences in precipitation and temperature between current and future climates, as predicted by using six global circulation models and three carbondioxide emission scenarios, were input into WEBMOD to identify possible shifts in the quantity and quality of the water flowing from the watershed for the period 2005 through 2100. Initial results suggest that increased air temperatures will result in earlier snowmelt compared to current conditions. Average sulfate concentrations and acidity in streams draining hydrothermally altered terrain may decrease as water tables rise in response to greater overall precipitation and earlier snowmelt, although a net increase of sulfate load was simulated as a result of greater overall discharge. Evapotranspiration is expected to increase but not enough to offset the increase in precipitation.

Study Area

Publication type Conference Paper
Title Potential climate change effects on water tables and pyrite oxidation in headwater catchments in Colorado
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 11 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Observing, studying, and managing for change - Proceedings of the Fourth Interagency Conference on Research in the Watersheds: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5169
First page 23
Last page 33
Conference Title The Fourth Interagency Conference on Research in the Watersheds
Conference Location Fairbanks, AK
Conference Date September 26-30, 2011
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Handcart Gulch, Loch Vale
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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