EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Impact of antecedent wetness and precipitation intensity on catchment travel and response times

Julia L.A. Knapp1,2, Wouter R. Berghuijs2, Jana von Freyberg2,3,4, and James W. Kirchner2,4
Julia L.A. Knapp et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
  • 2Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETHZ, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 4Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Birmensdorf, Switzerland

The time a molecule of rain takes to reach the stream is normally substantially longer than the time for discharge to respond to rainfall. This difference arises because hydraulic potentials propagate through landscapes much faster than water itself does; in other words, the celerity of wave propagation is faster than the velocity of water flow. Although these concepts are well established, most catchment studies are restricted to the calculation of the celerity or response time from hydrometric information. However, to understand the storage, release, and transport of water, as well as identify flow paths through the catchment, one needs to estimate both response and travel times, requiring both hydrometric and tracer data.

We analyzed hydrometric and tracer data from two contrasting sites, the pre-Alpine Erlenbach catchment in Switzerland and the Upper Hafren catchment at Plynlimon in Wales. For both sites, hydrometric data and sub-daily isotopic tracer time series are available, enabling the calculation of response times as well as travel time distributions and new water fractions. To gain a deeper understanding of the functioning of the two catchments, we quantified these metrics and distributions for different ranges of antecedent wetness and precipitation intensity. Generally, wetter catchment conditions and higher precipitation intensities yielded faster runoff responses and shorter travel times.  Contrasts between travel and response time distributions under varying catchment conditions also facilitated more nuanced insights into catchment functioning and the effects of catchment wetness and precipitation intensity on water storage and release.

How to cite: Knapp, J. L. A., Berghuijs, W. R., von Freyberg, J., and Kirchner, J. W.: Impact of antecedent wetness and precipitation intensity on catchment travel and response times, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-10301,, 2021.


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