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I am curious how do mountain springs get their water. The water flowing from them eventually forms rivers.

Is it only from rain and snow? Or does water also come from underground-below the mountain (if so, then how does it "climb" to the spring which is at a high altitude)?

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  • $\begingroup$ Afaik only rain and snow. Capillar effect is far not enough for that. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    May 29, 2020 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ Look for "karst". Many mountains are formed of limestone and have caves and water flowing inside them. Underground water doesn't climb from below the mountain, but form water tables inside the mountain, where the water meets a non-permeable rock layer. Where the water table intersects the mountain slope, there is a spring. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ the water underground comes from rain and snow, as well. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 16, 2020 at 18:27

2 Answers 2

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Ultimately, it comes from precipitation. Ordinarily we think of rain as coming from low-level clouds, but Putkonen[1] has compiled rainfall data in the Himalayas showing significant rains up to several thousand meters altitude, covering the range where practically everyone lives. It is this precipitation that fills the underground tables mentioned by Jean-Marie Prival in a comment to the question.

Such a source is subject to the effects of climate change, which accordingly has led to significant environmental issues. See Ref [2].

References:

1. Jaakko K. Putkonen, "Continuous Snow and Rain Data at 500 to 4400 m Altitude near Annapurna, Nepal, 1999–2001", Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 36:2, 244-248 (2004)

2. Sandeep Tambe, Ghanashyam Kharel, ML Arrawatia, Himanshu Kulkarni, Kaustubh Mahamuni, Anil K Ganeriwala, "Reviving dying springs: climate change adaptation experiments from the Sikkim Himalaya", Mountain Research and Development 32 (1), 62-72 (2012)

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That answer does not work for me. Here in the California coastal range we have multiple springs which are located close to the top of ridges which couldn't possibly hold enough water to feed a large year round spring.

Not far from me is Crazy Spring. It's at about 4,000 feet and the top of the mountain ridge is only a few hundred feet higher. Out of that spring comes a sizable stream of water, a creek, that runs all year. All through the 5-6 month dry season where very little rainfall occurs.

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    $\begingroup$ Assuming this is Crazy Spring in Humbolt County, California, you can look at the topography and there's 0.5 $km^2$ of ground at a higher elevation. So with Humbolt county's 1300 mm rain, assuming 10% of rain recharges, average groundwater discharge would be 2000 $m^3$. Let's be conservative and assume that only 10% of the groundwater discharges through that spring - that would still give an average flow of 2 litres/second, which is 'sizeable'. Reality is likely to be complicated by geology, snowpack etc. $\endgroup$
    – Andy M
    Jun 9 at 8:42

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