Effect of spatial heterogeneity of runoff generation mechanisms on the scaling behavior of event runoff responses in a natural river basin

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This paper presents a theoretical investigation of the effects of spatial heterogeneity of runoff generation on the scaling behavior of runoff timing responses. A previous modeling study on the Illinois River Basin in Oklahoma had revealed a systematic spatial trend in the relative dominance of different runoff generation mechanisms, attributable to corresponding systematic trends in landscape properties. Considering the differences in the timing of hillslope responses between the different runoff mechanisms, this paper explores their impacts on the catchment-scale runoff routing responses, including how they change with spatial scale. For this purpose we utilize a distributed, physically based hydrological model, with a fully hydraulic stream network routing component. The model is used to generate instantaneous response functions (IRF) for nested catchments of a range of sizes along the river network and quantitative measures of their shape, e.g., peak and time to peak. In order to separate the effects of soil heterogeneity from those due to basin geomorphology, the model simulations are carried out for three hypothetical cases that make assumptions regarding landscape properties (uniform, a systematic trend, and heterogeneity plus the trend), repeating these simulations under wet and dry antecedent conditions. The simulations produced expected and also surprising results. The power law relationship between the peak of the IRF and drainage area is shown to be flatter under wet conditions than under dry conditions, even though the (faster) saturation excess mechanism is more dominant under wet conditions. This result appears to be caused by partial area runoff generation: under wet conditions, the fraction of saturation area is about 30%, while under dry conditions it is less than 10% for the same input of rainfall. This means travel times associated with overland flow (which mostly contributes to the peak and time to peak) are, in fact, longer during wet conditions than during dry conditions. The power law relationship between peak and drainage area also exhibits a scaling break at around 1000 km2, which can be shown to be related to the peculiar geomorphology of the catchment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW00H08
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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