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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-2019-440
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-440
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 11 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 11 Sep 2019

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

On the shape of forward transit time distributions in low-order catchments

Ingo Heidbüchel1, Jie Yang1, Andreas Musolff1, Peter Troch2, Ty Ferré2, and Jan H. Fleckenstein1 Ingo Heidbüchel et al.
  • 1Department of Hydrogeology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Leipzig, 04318, Germany
  • 2Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, 85721, USA

Abstract. Transit time distributions (TTDs) integrate information on timing, amount, storage, mixing and flow paths of water and thus characterize hydrologic and hydrochemical catchment response unlike any other descriptor. Here, we simulate the shape of TTDs in an idealized low-order catchment investigating whether it changes systematically with certain catchment and climate properties. To this end, we used a physically-based, spatially-explicit 3-D model, injected tracer with a precipitation event and recorded the resulting TTDs at the outlet of a small (~ 6000 m2) catchment for different scenarios. We found that the TTDs can be subdivided into four parts: 1) early part – controlled by soil hydraulic conductivity and antecedent soil moisture content, 2) middle part – transition zone with no clear pattern or control, 3) later part – influenced by soil hydraulic conductivity and subsequent precipitation amount and 4) very late tail of the breakthrough curve – governed by bedrock hydraulic conductivity. The modeled TTD shapes can be predicted using a dimensionless number: higher initial peaks are observed if the inflow of water to a catchment is not equal to its capacity to discharge water via subsurface flow paths, lower initial peaks are connected to increasing available storage. In most cases the modeled TTDs were humped with non-zero initial values and varying weights of the tails. Therefore, none of the best-fit theoretical probability functions could exactly describe the entire TTD shape. Still, we found that generally the Gamma and the Advection-Dispersion distribution work better for scenarios of low and high hydraulic conductivity, respectively.

Ingo Heidbüchel et al.
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Short summary
With the help of a 3-D computer model we examined how long the water of a rain event stays inside a small catchment before it is released and how the nature of this release is controlled by different catchment and climate properties. We found that the prediction of the release dynamics was only possible when taking into account a combination of catchment and climate properties (i.e. there was not one single most important predictor). Our results can help to manage, e.g., water pollution events.
With the help of a 3-D computer model we examined how long the water of a rain event stays...
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