Landscape structure and climate influences on hydrologic response


Journal Article

Climate variability and catchment structure (topography, geology, vegetation) have a significant influence on the timing and quantity of water discharged from mountainous catchments. How these factors combine to influence runoff dynamics is poorly understood. In this study we linked differences in hydrologic response across catchments and across years to metrics of landscape structure and climate using a simple transfer function rainfall-runoff modeling approach. A transfer function represents the internal catchment properties that convert a measured input (rainfall/snowmelt) into an output (streamflow). We examined modeled mean response time, defined as the average time that it takes for a water input to leave the catchment outlet from the moment it reaches the ground surface. We combined 12 years of precipitation and streamflow data from seven catchments in the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest (Little Belt Mountains, southwestern Montana) with landscape analyses to quantify the first-order controls on mean response times. Differences between responses across the seven catchments were related to the spatial variability in catchment structure (e.g., slope, flowpath lengths, tree height). Annual variability was largely a function of maximum snow water equivalent. Catchment averaged runoff ratios exhibited strong correlations with mean response time while annually averaged runoff ratios were not related to climatic metrics. These results suggest that runoff ratios in snowmelt dominated systems are mainly controlled by topography and not by climatic variability. This approach provides a simple tool for assessing differences in hydrologic response across diverse watersheds and climate conditions. Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Nippgen, F; McGlynn, BL; Marshall, LA; Emanuel, RE

Published Date

  • December 26, 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 47 / 12

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0043-1397

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1029/2011WR011161

Citation Source

  • Scopus