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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
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Research article 13 Feb 2018

Research article | 13 Feb 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Using StorAge Selection functions to quantify ecohydrological controls on the time-variant age of evapotranspiration, soil water, and recharge

Aaron A. Smith1, Doerthe Tetzlaff1,2,3, and Chris Soulsby1 Aaron A. Smith et al.
  • 1Northern Rivers Institute, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, UK
  • 2Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • 3IGB Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Abstract. Quantifying ecohydrological controls on soil water availability is essential to understand temporal variations in catchment storage. Soil water is subject to numerous time-variable fluxes (evaporation, root-uptake, and recharge), each with different water ages which in turn affect the age of water in storage. Here, we adapt StorAge Selection (SAS) function theory to investigate water flow in soils and identify soil evaporation and root-water uptake sources from depth. We use this to quantify the effects of soil-vegetation interactions on the inter-relationships between water fluxes, storage, and age. The novel modification of the SAS function framework is tested against empirical data from two contrasting soil-vegetation units in the Scottish Highlands; these are characterised by significant preferential flow, transporting younger water through the soil during high soil moisture conditions. Dominant young water fluxes, along with relatively low rainfall intensities, explain relatively stable soil water ages through time and with depth. Soil evaporation sources were more time-invariant with high preference for near-surface water, independent of soil moisture conditions, and resulting in soil evaporation water ages similar to near-surface soil waters (mean age: 50–65 days). Sources of root-water uptake were more variable: preferential near-surface water uptake occurred in wet conditions, with a deeper root-uptake source during dry soil conditions, which resulted in more variable water ages of transpiration (mean age: 56–79 days). The simple model structure provides a parsimonious means of constraining the water age of multiple fluxes from the upper part of the critical zone during time-varying conditions improving our understanding of vegetation influences on catchment scale water fluxes.

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