skip to main content


This content will become publicly available on November 27, 2024

Title: Hillslope to channel hydrologic connectivity in a dryland ecosystem
Abstract

Hydrologic connectivity refers to the processes and thresholds leading to water transport across a landscape. In dryland ecosystems, runoff production is mediated by the arrangement of vegetation and bare soil patches on hillslopes and the properties of ephemeral channels. In this study, we used runoff measurements at multiple scales in a small (4.67 ha) mixed shrubland catchment of the Chihuahuan Desert to identify controls on and thresholds of hillslope‐channel connectivity. By relating short‐ and long‐term hydrologic records, we also addressed whether observed changes in outlet discharge since 1977 were linked to modifications in hydrologic connectivity. Hillslope runoff production was controlled by the maximum rainfall intensity occurring in a 30‐min interval (I30), with small‐to‐negligible effects of antecedent surface soil moisture, vegetation cover, or slope aspect. AnI30threshold of nearly 10 mm/h activated runoff propagation from the shrubland hillslopes and through the main ephemeral channel, whereas anI30threshold of about 16 mm/h was required for discharge from the catchment outlet. Since storms rarely exceedI30, full hillslope‐channel connectivity occurs infrequently in the mixed shrubland, leading to <2% of the annual precipitation being converted into outlet discharge. Progressive decreases in outlet discharge since 1977 could not be explained by variations in precipitation metrics, includingI30, or the process of woody plant encroachment. Instead, channel modifications from the buildup of sediment behind measurement flumes may have increased transmission losses and reduced outlet discharge. Thus, alterations in channel properties can play an important role in the long‐term (45‐year) variations of rainfall–runoff dynamics of small desert catchments.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
2025166
NSF-PAR ID:
10477062
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Online Library
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecosphere
Volume:
14
Issue:
11
ISSN:
2150-8925
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Wildfire increases the potential connectivity of runoff and sediment throughout watersheds due to greater bare soil, runoff and erosion as compared to pre‐fire conditions. This research examines the connectivity of post‐fire runoff and sediment from hillslopes (<1.5 ha;n= 31) and catchments (<1000 ha;n= 10) within two watersheds (<1500 ha) burned by the 2012 High Park Fire in northcentral Colorado, USA. Our objectives were to: (1) identify sources and quantify magnitudes of post‐fire runoff and erosion at nested hillslopes and watersheds for two rain storms with varied duration, intensity and antecedent precipitation; and (2) assess the factors affecting the magnitude and connectivity of runoff and sediment across spatial scales for these two rain storms. The two summer storms that are the focus of this research occurred during the third summer after burning. The first storm had low intensity rainfall over 11 hours (return interval <1–2 years), whereas the second event had high intensity rainfall over 1 hour (return interval <1–10 years). The lower intensity storm was preceded by high antecedent rainfall and led to low hillslope sediment yields and channel incision at most locations, whereas the high intensity storm led to infiltration‐excess overland flow, high sediment yields, in‐stream sediment deposition and channel substrate fining. For both storms, hillslope‐to‐stream sediment delivery ratios and area‐normalised cross‐sectional channel change increased with the percent of catchment that burned at high severity. For the high intensity storm, hillslope‐to‐stream sediment delivery ratios decreased with unconfined channel length (%). The findings quantify post‐fire connectivity and sediment delivery from hillslopes and streams, and highlight how different types of storms can cause varying magnitues and spatial patterns of sediment transport and deposition from hillslopes through stream channel networks.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Stream and shallow groundwater responses to rainfall are characterized by high spatial variability, but hydrologic response variability across small, agro‐forested sub‐catchments remains poorly understood. Conceivably, improved understanding in this regard will result in agricultural practices that more effectively limit nutrient runoff, erosion, and pollutant transport. Terrestrial hydrologic response approaches can provide valuable information on stream‐aquifer connectivity in these mixed‐use watersheds. A study was implemented, including eight stream and co‐located shallow groundwater monitoring sites, in a small sub‐catchment of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in the Northeast, USA to advance this ongoing need. During the study period, 100 precipitation‐receiving days (i.e., 24‐hour periods, midnight to midnight) were observed. On average, the groundwater table responded more to precipitation than stream stage (level change of 0.03 vs. 0.01 m and rainfall‐normalized level change estimate of 3.81 vs. 3.37). Median stream stage responses, groundwater table responses, and response ratios were significantly different between sub‐catchments (n = 8;p < 0.001). Study area average precipitation thresholds for runoff and shallow groundwater flow were 2.8 and 0.6 cm, respectively. Individual sub‐catchment thresholds ranged from 0.5 to 2.8 cm for runoff and 0.2 to 1.3 cm for shallow groundwater flow. Normalized response lag times between the stream and shallow groundwater ranged from −0.50 to 3.90 s·cm−1, indicating that stormflow in one stream section was regulated by groundwater flow during the period of study. The observed differences in hydrologic responses to precipitation advance future modelling efforts by providing examples of how terrestrial groundwater response methods can be used to investigate sub‐catchment spatial variability in stream‐aquifer gradients with co‐located shallow groundwater and stream stage data. Additionally, results demonstrate asynchronous stream and shallow groundwater responses on precipitation‐receiving days, which may hold important implications for modelling hydrologic and biogeochemical fate and transport processes in small, agro‐forested catchments.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Soil moisture is a key control on runoff generation and biogeochemical processes on hillslopes. Precipitation events can evoke different soil moisture responses with depth through the soil profile, and responses can differ among landscape positions along a hillslope. We sought to elucidate the nature of these responses by estimating changes in water content, response time between peak precipitation and peak soil moisture, and wetting front velocities for 43 storms at 45 locations on three adjacent hillslopes within a headwater catchment of the southern Appalachian Mountains (NC, USA). We used a multivariate modeling approach to quantify the relative influences and the predictability of soil moisture responses by a combination of landscape and storm characteristics. We quantified the lag correlations between hillslope mean soil moisture and catchment runoff to demonstrate how storm properties and hillslope‐scale characteristics may influence runoff at the catchment outlet. Soil moisture responses varied widely, and no consistent patterns were observed among response metrics laterally or vertically along hillslopes. In contrast to other studies, we found that the relative influence of hillslope properties and storm characteristics varied with soil moisture responses and during storms. Antecedent conditions and storm depths influenced the strength of lag correlations between soil moisture and runoff, whereas storm mean intensity was correlated with the lag times. These results highlight the utility of intensive observations for characterizing heterogeneity in soil moisture responses, suggesting, among other things, a need for better representation of the subsurface processes in rainfall‐runoff models. Identifying the relative importance of drivers can be beneficial in building parsimonious hydrological models.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Threshold changes in rainfall‐runoff generation commonly represent shifts in runoff mechanisms and hydrologic connectivity controlling water and solute transport and transformation. In watersheds with limited human influence, threshold runoff responses reflect interaction between precipitation event and antecedent soil moisture. Similar analyses are lacking in intensively managed landscapes where installation of subsurface drainage tiles has altered connectivity between the land surface, groundwater, and streams, and where application of fertilizer has created significant stores of subsurface nitrogen. In this study, we identify threshold patterns of tile‐runoff generation for a drained agricultural field in Illinois and evaluate how antecedent conditions—including shallow soil moisture, groundwater table depth, and the presence or absence of crops—control tile response. We relate tile‐runoff thresholds to patterns of event nitrate load observed across multiple storm events and evaluate how antecedent conditions control within‐event nitrate concentration‐discharge relationships. Our results demonstrate that an event tile‐runoff threshold emerges relative to the sum of gross precipitation and indices of antecedent shallow soil moisture and antecedent below‐tile groundwater moisture deficit, indicating that both shallow soil and below‐tile storages must be filled to generate significant runoff. In turn, event nitrate load shows a linear dependence on runoff for most time periods, suggesting that subsurface nitrate export and storage can be estimated using runoff threshold relationships and long‐term average nitrate concentrations. Finally, within‐event nitrate concentration‐discharge relationships are controlled by event size and the antecedent tile flow state because these factors dictate the sequence of flow path activation and tile connectivity over a storm event.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    The concept of using representative hillslopes to simulate hydrologically similar areas of a catchment has been incorporated in many hydrologic models but few Earth system models. Here we describe a configuration of the Community Land Model version 5 in which each grid cell is decomposed into one or more multicolumn hillslopes. Within each hillslope, the intercolumn connectivity is specified, and the lateral saturated subsurface flow from each column is passed to its downslope neighbor. We first apply the model to simulate a headwater catchment and assess the results against runoff and evapotranspiration flux measurements. By redistributing soil water within the catchment, the model is able to reproduce the observed difference between evapotranspiration in the upland and lowland portions of the catchment. Next, global simulations based on hypothetical hillslope geomorphic parameters are used to show the model's sensitivity to differences in hillslope shape and discretization. Differences in evapotranspiration between upland and lowland hillslope columns are found to be largest in arid and semiarid regions, while humid tropical and high‐latitude regions show limited evapotranspiration increases in lowlands relative to uplands.

     
    more » « less