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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 25 Feb 2019

Submitted as: research article | 25 Feb 2019

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

Relevance and controls of preferential flow at the landscape scale

Dominic Demand1, Theresa Blume2, and Markus Weiler1 Dominic Demand et al.
  • 1University of Freiburg, Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Hydrology, Freiburg, Germany
  • 2Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section Hydrology, Potsdam, Germany

Abstract. The spatial and temporal controls of preferential flow (PF) during infiltration are still not fully understood. Soil moisture sensor networks give the possibility to measure infiltration response in high temporal and spatial resolution. Therefore, we used a large-scale sensor network with 135 soil moisture profiles distributed across a complex catchment. The experimental design covers three major geological regions (Slate, Marl, Sandstone) and two land covers (forest, grassland) in Luxembourg. We analyzed the responses of up to 353 rainfall events for every of the 135 soil moisture profiles. Non-sequential responses within the soil moisture depth-profiles were taken as an indication of PF. For sequential responses wetting front velocities were determined from the observations and compared with predictions by capillary flow. A measured wetting front velocity higher than the capillary prediction was also taken as a proxy for PF. We observed the highest fraction of non-sequential response (NSR) in forests on clay-rich soils (Slate, Marl). Furthermore, these two landscape units showed an increase of NSR with lower initial soil water content and higher maximum rainfall intensity. Wetting front velocities ranged from 6 cm day−1 to 80 640 cm day−1 with a median of 113 cm day−1 across all events and landscape units. The soils in the Marl geology had the highest flow velocities, independent of land cover, especially between 30 and 50 cm depth where the clay content increased. For Marl the median water content change was highest for the deepest soil moisture sensor (50 cm), whereas the other two geologies (Slate, Sandstone) showed a decrease of soil moisture change with depth. This confirms that clay content and vegetation strongly influence infiltration and reinforce preferential flow. Capillary-based soil water flow modelling was unable to predict the observed patterns. This demonstrates the danger of treating especially clay soils in the vadose zone as a low-conductivity layer, as the development of soil structure can dominate over the effect of low-conductive texture.

Dominic Demand et al.
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Dominic Demand et al.
Dominic Demand et al.
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Short summary
This study presents an analysis of 135 soil moisture profiles for identification of the spatial and temporal preferential flow occurrence in a complex landscape. We observed a high dominance of preferential flow during most infiltration events. Especially clayey soils and forest land cover during dry conditions and high precipitation intensities were found to increase preferential flow occurrence.
This study presents an analysis of 135 soil moisture profiles for identification of the spatial...