Functional approach to exploring climatic and landscape controls of runoff generation: 1. Behavioral constraints on runoff volume

Hong Yi Li, Murugesu Sivapalan, Fuqiang Tian, Ciaran Harman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inspired by the Dunne diagram, the climatic and landscape controls on the partitioning of annual runoff into its various components (Hortonian and Dunne overland flow and subsurface stormflow) are assessed quantitatively, from a purely theoretical perspective. A simple distributed hydrologic model has been built sufficient to simulate the effects of different combinations of climate, soil, and topography on the runoff generation processes. The model is driven by a sequence of simple hypothetical precipitation events, for a large combination of climate and landscape properties, and hydrologic responses at the catchment scale are obtained through aggregation of grid-scale responses. It is found, first, that the water balance responses, including relative contributions of different runoff generation mechanisms, could be related to a small set of dimensionless similarity parameters. These capture the competition between the wetting, drying, storage, and drainage functions underlying the catchment responses, and in this way, provide a quantitative approximation of the conceptual Dunne diagram. Second, only a subset of all hypothetical catchment/climate combinations is found to be "behavioral," in terms of falling sufficiently close to the Budyko curve, describing mean annual runoff as a function of climate aridity. Furthermore, these behavioral combinations are mostly consistent with the qualitative picture presented in the Dunne diagram, indicating clearly the commonality between the Budyko curve and the Dunne diagram. These analyses also suggest clear interrelationships amongst the "behavioral" climate, soil, and topography parameter combinations, implying these catchment properties may be constrained to be codependent in order to satisfy the Budyko curve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9300-9322
Number of pages23
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 23 2014


  • Budyko curve
  • Dunne diagram
  • annual water balance
  • parameter interconnection
  • runoff generation mechanisms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Functional approach to exploring climatic and landscape controls of runoff generation: 1. Behavioral constraints on runoff volume'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this