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

van Meerveld, H. J. Ilja; Kirchner, James W.; Vis, Marc J. P.; Assendelft, Rick S.; Seibert, Jan

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 determined 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.

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van Meerveld, H. J. Ilja / Kirchner, James W. / Vis, Marc J. P. / et al: Expansion and contraction of the flowing stream network alter hillslope flowpath lengths and the shape of the travel time distribution. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: H. J. Ilja van Meerveld et al.

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