Ephemeral and intermittent runoff generation processes in a low relief, highly weathered catchment
© 2017. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Most field-based approaches that address runoff generation questions have been conducted in steep landscapes with shallow soils. Runoff generation processes in low relief landscapes with deep soils remain less understood. We addressed this by characterizing dominant runoff generating flow paths by monitoring the timing and magnitude of precipitation, runoff, shallow soil moisture, and shallow and deep groundwater dynamics in a 3.3 ha ephemeral-to-intermittent drainage network in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, USA. This Piedmont region is gently sloped with highly weathered soils characterized by shallow impeding layers due to decreases in saturated hydraulic conductivity with depth. Our results indicated two dominant catchment storage states driven by seasonal evapotranspiration. Within these states, distinct flow paths were activated, resulting in divergent hydrograph recessions. Groundwater dynamics during precipitation events with different input characteristics and contrasting storage states showed distinct shallow and deep groundwater flow path behavior could produce similar runoff magnitudes. During an event with low antecedent storage, activation of a shallow, perched, transient water table dominated runoff production. During an event with high antecedent storage, the deeper water table activated shallow flow paths by rising into the shallow transmissive soil horizons. Despite these differing processes, the relationship between active surface drainage length (ASDL) and runoff was consistent. Hysteretic behavior between ASDL and runoff suggested that while seasonal ASDLs can be predicted based on runoff, the mechanisms and source areas producing flow can be highly variable and not easily estimated from runoff alone. These processes and flow paths have significant implications for stream chemistry across seasons and storage states.
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