Functional approach to exploring climatic and landscape controls on runoff generation: 2 Timing of runoff storm response

Hong Yi Li, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hortonian overland flow, Dunne overland flow, and subsurface stormflow are the three most dominant mechanisms contributing to both the volume and timing of streamflow in headwater catchments. In this paper, guided by the Dunne diagram, we explore the impacts of climate, soil, and topography on estimated probability distributions of the travel times of each of these three runoff components. In each case, these are expressed in terms of the Connected Instantaneous Response Functions (CIRF) and account for the dynamics of their individual partial effective contributing areas that retain the connectivity to the outlet (instead of the whole catchment area). A spatially distributed hydrological model is used to derive the CIRFs numerically under multiple combinations of climate, soil, and topographic properties. The mean travel times and dimensionless forms of the CIRFs (i.e.; scaled by their respective mean travel times) are used to examine both advective and dispersive aspects of catchment's runoff routing response. It is found that the CIRFs, upon nondimensionalization, collapsed to common characteristic shapes, which could be explained in terms of the relative contributions of hillslope and channel network flows, and the size of runoff contributing areas. The contributing areas, particularly for the Dunne overland flow, are themselves found to be governed by the competition between drainage of and recharge to the water table, and could be explained by a dimensionless drainage index which quantifies this competition. The study also reveals simple indicators based on landscape properties that can explain the magnitude of travel times in different catchments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9323-9342
Number of pages20
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • connected instantaneous response function
  • distributed modeling
  • runoff components
  • travel times

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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