Modelling runoff generation on small agricultural catchments: Can real world runoff responses be captured?

Neil A. Coles, Murugesu Sivapalan, Jens E. Larsen, Per E. Linnet, Christopher K. Fahrner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper focuses on the problem of quantifying real world catchment response using a distributed model and discusses the ability of the model to capture that response. The rainfall-runoff responses of seven small agricultural catchments in the eastern wheatbelt region of south-western Australia are examined. The variability in runoff generation and the factors that contribute to that variability (i.e. rainfall intensity, soil properties and topography) are investigated to determine if their influence can be captured in a mathematical model. The spatially distributed rainfall-runoff model used in this study is based on the TOPMODEL concepts of Beven and Kirkby (1979), and simulates runoff generation by both the infiltration excess and saturation excess mechanisms. Simulations with the model revealed the highly complex nature of catchment response to rainfall events. Runoff generation was highly heterogeneous in both space and time, with the runoff response being governed by the spatial variability of soil properties and topography, and by the temporal variation in rainfall intensity. Although the model proved capable of simulating catchment response for many events, the investigation has demonstrated that not all aspects of the variability associated with agricultural catchments (particularly the effects of land management) can be captured using this relatively simple model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-136
Number of pages26
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Agricultural catchments
  • Heterogeneity
  • Infiltration excess runoff
  • Rainfall-runoff model
  • Runoff generation models
  • Saturation excess runoff

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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