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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-218
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-218
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 15 May 2019

Submitted as: research article | 15 May 2019

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

Expansion and contraction of the flowing stream network changes hillslope flowpath lengths and the shape of the travel time distribution

H. J. Ilja van Meerveld1, James W. Kirchner2,3,4, Marc J. P. Vis1, Rick S. Assendelft1, and Jan Seibert1,5 H. J. Ilja van Meerveld et al.
  • 1Dept. of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Dept. of Environmental System Sciences, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • 4Dept. of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 94720 USA
  • 5Dept. of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 7050, 75007 Uppsala, Sweden

Abstract. Flowing stream networks dynamically extend and retract, both seasonally and in response to precipitation events. These network dynamics can dramatically alter the drainage density, and thus the length of subsurface flow pathways to flowing streams. We mapped flowing stream networks in a small Swiss headwater catchment during different wetness conditions and estimated their effects on the distribution of travel times to the catchment outlet. For each point in the catchment, we determined the subsurface transport distance to the flowing stream based on the surface topography, and the surface transport distance along the flowing stream to the outlet. We combined the distributions of these travel distances with assumed surface and subsurface flow velocities to estimate the distribution of travel times to the outlet. These calculations show that the extension and retraction of the stream network can substantially change the mean travel time and the shape of the travel time distribution. During wet conditions with a fully extended flowing stream network, the travel time distribution was strongly skewed to short travel times, but as the network retracted during dry conditions, the distribution of the travel times became more uniform. Stream network dynamics are widely ignored in catchment models, but our results show that they need to be taken into account when modeling solute transport and interpreting travel time distributions.

H. J. Ilja van Meerveld et al.
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H. J. Ilja van Meerveld et al.
H. J. Ilja van Meerveld et al.
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Short summary
Flowing stream networks extend and retract seasonally and in response to precipitation. This affects the distances and thus the time that it takes a water molecule to reach the flowing stream and the stream outlet. When the network is fully extended the travel times are short but when the network retracts, the travel times become longer and more uniform. These dynamics should be included when modeling solute or pollutant transport.
Flowing stream networks extend and retract seasonally and in response to precipitation. This...
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