Stream temperature dynamics within a New Zealand glacierized river basin

SL Cadbury, David Hannah, Alexander Milner, CP Pearson, LE Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Citations (Scopus)


Knowledge of river thermal dynamics for glacierized basins is limited, despite the high sensitivity of these systems to climatic change/variability. This study examined spatio-temporal water column and streambed temperature dynamics within a New Zealand glacierized river basin over two melt seasons. Water column temperature was recorded at three sites along the mainstem channel and four hill slope/groundwater-fed tributaries. Air temperature, precipitation and stream discharge were monitored to characterize hydroclimatological conditions. Streambed temperature was monitored at the upper and lower main river sites at 0.05, 0.2 and 0.4 m depth. Water column temperature rose on average 0.6 degrees C km(-1) along the glacier-fed mainstem. Temperature was elevated during warmer periods but the downstream increase was reduced clue to greater meltwater production (consequently a larger total stream flow volume for atmospheric heating) plus a proportional reduction in warmer groundwater contributions. Hillslope/groundwater-fed tributaries yielded a range of temperature patterns, indicating variable sourcing (meltwater or rainfall) and residence times. In the upper basin, streambed temperature was warmer than the water column, suggesting groundwater upwelling; however, during high runoff events, water column and streambed temperature converged, indicating downwelling/heat advection by channel water. At the lower site, streambed temperature mirrored the water column, suggesting greater surface water/atmospheric influences. Key drivers of stream thermal regime were: (1) relative water source contributions, (2) prevailing hydroclimatological conditions, (3) distance from source, (4) total stream flow volume and (5) basin factors (specifically, valley/channel geomorphology and riparian forest). High magnitude precipitation events produced a contrasting stream thermal response to that reported elsewhere. In contrast to European alpine research, streams showed a reduced thermal range owing to the relatively mild, wet melt season climate. This New Zealand case study highlights the importance of understanding basin-specific modification of energy and hydrological fluxes for accurate prediction of stream thermal dynamics/habitat and ecological response to climatic variability and change. Copyright (C) 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-89
Number of pages22
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jan 2007
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • groundwater
  • glacier
  • snowmelt
  • water column
  • river/stream temperature
  • hyporheic zone
  • streambed
  • New Zealand


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