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  1. Abstract

    Spatially integrated transport models have been applied widely to model hydrologic transport. However, we lack simple and process‐based theoretical tools to predict the transport closures—transit time distributions (TTDs) and StorAge Selection (SAS) functions. This limits our ability to infer characteristics of hydrologic systems from tracer observations and to make first‐order estimates of SAS functions in catchments where no tracer data is available. Here we present a theoretical framework linking TTDs and SAS functions to hydraulic groundwater theory at the hillslope scale. For hillslopes where the saturated hydraulic conductivity declines exponentially with depth, analytical solutions for the closures are derived that can be used as hypotheses to test against data. In the simplest form, the hillslope SAS function resembles a uniform or exponential distribution (corresponding to flow pathways in the saturated zone) offset from zero by the storage in the unsaturated zone that does not contribute to discharge. The framework is validated against nine idealized virtual hillslopes constructed using a 2‐D Richards equation‐based model, and against data from tracer experiments in two artificial hillslopes. Modeled internal age, life expectancy, and transit time structures reproduce theoretical predictions. The experimental data also support the theory, though further work is needed to account for the effects of time‐variability. The shape and tailing of TTDs and their power spectra are discussed. The theoretical framework yields several dimensionless numbers that can be used to classify hillslope scale flow and transport dynamics and suggests distinct water age structures for high or low Hillslope number.

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  2. Abstract

    The hydrologic dynamics and geomorphic evolution of watersheds are intimately coupled—runoff generation and water storage are controlled by topography and properties of the surface and subsurface, while also affecting the evolution of those properties over geologic time. However, the large disparity between their timescales has made it difficult to examine interdependent controls on emergent hydrogeomorphic properties, such as hillslope length, drainage density, and extent of surface saturation. In this study, we develop a new model coupling hydrology and landscape evolution to explore how runoff generation affects long‐term catchment evolution, and analyze numerical results using a nondimensional scaling framework. We focus on hydrologic processes dominating in humid climates where storm runoff primarily arises from shallow subsurface flow and from precipitation on saturated areas. The model solves hydraulic groundwater equations to predict the water‐table elevation given prescribed, constant groundwater recharge. Water in excess of the subsurface capacity for transport becomes overland flow, which generates shear stress on the surface and may detach and transport sediment. This affects the landscape form that in turn affects runoff generation. We show that (a) four dimensionless parameters describe the possible steady state landscapes that coevolve under steady recharge; (b) hillslope length increases with increasing transmissivity relative to the recharge rate; (c) three topographic metrics—steepness index, Laplacian curvature, and topographic index—together provide a basis for interpreting landscapes that have coevolved with runoff generated via shallow subsurface flow. Finally we discuss the possibilities and limitations for quantitative comparisons between the model results and real landscapes.

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  3. Abstract

    Weathering processes weaken and break apart rock, freeing nutrients and enhancing permeability through the subsurface. To better understand these processes, it is useful to constrain physical properties of materials derived from weathering within the critical zone. Foliated rocks exhibit permeability, strength and seismic anisotropy–the former two bear hydrological and geomorphological consequences while the latter is geophysically quantifiable. Each of these types of anisotropy are related to rock fabric (fractures and foliation); thus, characterizing weathering‐dependent changes in rock fabric with depth may have a range of implications (e.g., landslide susceptibility, groundwater modeling, and landscape evolution). To better understand how weathering effects rock fabric, we quantify seismic anisotropy in saprolite and weathered bedrock within two catchments underlain by the Precambrian Loch Raven schist, located in Oregon Ridge Park, MD. Using circular geophone arrays and perpendicular seismic refraction profiles, anisotropy versus depth functions are created for material 0–25 m below ground surface (bgs). We find that anisotropy is relatively low (0%–15%) in the deepest material sampled (12–25 m bgs) but becomes more pronounced (29%–33%) at depths corresponding with saprolite and highly weathered bedrock (5–12 m bgs). At shallow soil depths (0–5 m bgs), material is seismically isotropic, indicating that mixing processes have destroyed parent fabric. Therefore, in situ weathering and anisotropy appear to be correlated, suggesting that in‐place weathering amplifies the intrinsic anisotropy of bedrock.

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  4. Abstract

    A storage‐discharge relation tells us how discharge will change when new water enters a hydrologic system but not which water is released. Does an incremental increase in discharge come from faster turnover of older water already in storage? Or are the recent inputs rapidly delivered to the outlet, “short‐circuiting” the bulk of the system? Here I demonstrate that the concepts of storage‐discharge relationships and transit time distributions can be unified into a single relationship that can usefully address these questions: the age‐ranked storage‐discharge relation. This relationship captures how changes in total discharge arise from changes in the turnover rate of younger and older water in storage and provides a window into both the celerity and velocity of water in a catchment. This leads naturally to a distinction between cases where an increase in total discharge is accompanied by an increase (old water acceleration), no change (old water steadiness), or a decrease in the rate of discharge of older water in storage (old water suppression). The simple theoretical case of a power law age‐ranked storage‐discharge relations is explored to illustrate these cases. Example applications to data suggest that the apparent presence of old water acceleration or suppression is sensitive to the functional form chosen to fit to the data, making it difficult to draw decisive conclusions. This suggests new methods are needed that do not require a functional form to be chosen and provide age‐dependent uncertainty bounds.

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  5. Abstract

    This is the first of a two‐part paper exploring the coevolution of bedrock weathering and lateral flow in hillslopes using a simple low‐dimensional model based on hydraulic groundwater theory (also known as Dupuit or Boussinesq theory). Here, we examine the effect of lateral flow on the downward fluxes of water and solutes through perched groundwater at steady state. We derive analytical expressions describing the decline in the downward flux rate with depth. Using these, we obtain analytical expressions for water age in a number of cases. The results show that when the permeability field is homogeneous, the spatial structure of water age depends qualitatively on a single dimensionless number, Hi. This number captures the relative contributions to the lateral hydraulic potential gradient of the relief of the lower‐most impermeable boundary (which may be below the weathering front within permeable or incipiently weathered bedrock) and the water table. A “scaled lateral symmetry” exists when Hi is low: age varies primarily in the vertical dimension, and variations in the horizontal dimensionxalmost disappear when the vertical dimensionzis expressed as a fractionz/H(x) of the laterally flowing system thicknessH(x). Taking advantage of this symmetry, we show how the lateral dimension of the advection–diffusion‐reaction equation can be collapsed, yielding a 1‐D vertical equation in which the advective flux downward declines with depth. The equation holds even when the permeability field is not homogeneous, as long as the variations in permeability have the same scaled lateral symmetry structure. This new 1‐D approximation is used in the accompanying paper to extend chemical weathering models derived for 1‐D columns to hillslope domains.

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  6. Abstract

    The advance of a chemical weathering front into the bedrock of a hillslope is often limited by the rate weathering products that can be carried away, maintaining chemical disequilibrium. If the weathering front is within the saturated zone, groundwater flow downslope may affect the rate of transport and weathering—however, weathering also modifies the rock permeability and the subsurface potential gradient that drives lateral groundwater flow. This feedback may help explain why there tends to be neither “runaway weathering” to great depth nor exposed bedrock covering much of the earth and may provide a mechanism for weathering front advance to keep pace with incision of adjacent streams into bedrock. This is the second of a two‐part paper exploring the coevolution of bedrock weathering and lateral flow in hillslopes using a simple low‐dimensional model based on hydraulic groundwater theory. Here, we show how a simplified kinetic model of 1‐D rock weathering can be extended to consider lateral flow in a 2‐D hillslope. Exact and approximate analytical solutions for the location and thickness of weathering within the hillslope are obtained for a number of cases. A location for the weathering front can be found such that lateral flow is able to export weathering products at the rate required to keep pace with stream incision at steady state. Three pathways of solute export are identified: “diffusing up,” where solutes diffuse up and away from the weathering front into the laterally flowing aquifer; “draining down,” where solutes are advected primarily downward into the unweathered bedrock; and “draining along,” where solutes travel laterally within the weathering zone. For each pathway, a different subsurface topography and overall relief of unweathered bedrock within the hillslope is needed to remove solutes at steady state. The relief each pathway requires depends on the rate of stream incision raised to a different power, such that at a given incision rate, one pathway requires minimal relief and, therefore, likely determines the steady‐state hillslope profile.

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  7. Abstract. End-member mixing analysis (EMMA) is a method of interpreting stream water chemistry variations and is widely used for chemical hydrograph separation. It is based on the assumption that stream water is a conservative mixture of varying contributions from well-characterized source solutions (end-members). These end-members are typically identified by collecting samples of potential end-member source waters from within the watershed and comparing these to the observations. Here we introduce a complementary data-driven method (convex hull end-member mixing analysis – CHEMMA) to infer the end-member compositions and their associated uncertainties from the stream water observations alone. The method involves two steps. The first uses convex hull nonnegative matrix factorization (CH-NMF) to infer possible end-member compositions by searching for a simplex that optimally encloses the stream water observations. The second step uses constrained K-means clustering (COP-KMEANS) to classify the results from repeated applications of CH-NMF and analyzes the uncertainty associated with the algorithm. In an example application utilizing the 1986 to 1988 Panola Mountain Research Watershed dataset, CHEMMA is able to robustly reproduce the three field-measured end-members found in previous research using only the stream water chemical observations. CHEMMA also suggests that a fourth and a fifth end-member can be (less robustly) identified. We examine uncertainties in end-member identification arising from non-uniqueness, which is related to the data structure, of the CH-NMF solutions, and from the number of samples using both real and synthetic data. The results suggest that the mixing space can be identified robustly when the dataset includes samples that contain extremely small contributions of one end-member, i.e., samples containing extremely large contributions from one end-member are not necessary but do reduce uncertainty about the end-member composition. 
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