USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

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Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
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Publications and Products

Title: Oak transpiration drawn from the weathered bedrock vadose zone in the summer dry season

Authors: Hahm, W. J.; Rempe, D. M.; Dralle, D. N.; Dawson, T. E.; Dietrich, W. E.

Date: 2020

Source Water Resources Research. 56(11): e2020WR027419

Abstract: The spatiotemporal dynamics of plant water sources are hidden and poorly understood. We document water source use of Quercus garryana growing in Northern California on a profile of approximately 50 cm of soil underlain by 2–4 m of weathered bedrock (sheared shale mélange) that completely saturates in winter, when the oaks lack leaves, and progressively dries over the summer. We determined oak water sources by combining observations of water stable isotope composition, vadose zone moisture and groundwater dynamics, and metrics of tree water status (potential) and use (sapflow). During the spring, oak xylem water is isotopically similar to the seasonal groundwater and shallow, evaporatively enriched soil moisture pools. However, as soils dry and the water table recedes to the permanently saturated, anoxic, low‐conductivity fresh bedrock boundary, Q. garryana shifts to using a water source with a depleted isotopic composition that matches residual moisture in the deep soil and underlying weathered bedrock vadose zone. Sapflow rates remain high as late‐summer predawn water potentials drop below −2.5 MPa. Neutron probe surveys reveal late‐summer rock moisture declines under the oaks in contrast to constant rock moisture levels under grass‐dominated areas. We therefore conclude that the oaks temporarily use seasonal groundwater when it occupies the weathered profile but otherwise use deep unsaturated zone moisture after seasonal groundwater recedes. The ample moisture, connected porosity, and oxygenated conditions of the weathered bedrock vadose zone make it a key tree water resource during the long summer dry season of the local Mediterranean climate.

Keywords: oak transpiration, stable isotopes, rock moisture, weathered bedrock vadose zone, critical zone, Quercus garryana

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    Hahm, W. J.; Rempe, D. M.; Dralle, D. N.; Dawson, T. E.; Dietrich, W. E. 2020. Oak transpiration drawn from the weathered bedrock vadose zone in the summer dry season. Water Resources Research. 56(11): e2020WR027419.
Last Modified: January 15, 2021