The study deals with the identification and characterization of rapid subsurface flow structures through pedo- and geo-physical measurements and irrigation experiments at the point, plot and hillslope scale. Our investigation of flow-relevant structures and hydrological responses refers to the general interplay of form and function, respectively. To obtain a holistic picture of the subsurface, a large set of different laboratory, exploratory and experimental methods was used at the different scales. For exploration these methods included drilled soil core profiles, in situ measurements of infiltration capacity and saturated hydraulic conductivity, and laboratory analyses of soil water retention and saturated hydraulic conductivity. The irrigation experiments at the plot scale were monitored through a combination of dye tracer, salt tracer, soil moisture dynamics, and 3-D time-lapse ground penetrating radar (GPR) methods. At the hillslope scale the subsurface was explored by a 3-D GPR survey. A natural storm event and an irrigation experiment were monitored by a dense network of soil moisture observations and a cascade of 2-D time-lapse GPR trenches. We show that the shift between activated and non-activated state of the flow paths is needed to distinguish structures from overall heterogeneity. Pedo-physical analyses of point-scale samples are the basis for sub-scale structure inference. At the plot and hillslope scale 3-D and 2-D time-lapse GPR applications are successfully employed as non-invasive means to image subsurface response patterns and to identify flow-relevant paths. Tracer recovery and soil water responses from irrigation experiments deliver a consistent estimate of response velocities. The combined observation of form and function under active conditions provides the means to localize and characterize the structures (this study) and the hydrological processes (companion study Angermann et al., 2017, this issue).
Bibliographical noteThanks to Elly Karle and the Engler-BunteInstitute, KIT, for the IC measurements of bromide. We are grateful to Selina Baldauf, Marcel Delock, Razije Fiden, Barbara Herbstritt, Lisei Köhn, Jonas Lanz, Francois Nyobeu, Marvin Reich and
Begona Lorente Sistiaga for their support in the lab and during fieldwork, as well as Markus Morgner and Jean Francois Iffly for technical support and Britta Kattenstroth for hydrometeorological data acquisition. Laurent Pfister and Jean-Francois Iffly from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) are acknowledged for organizing the permissions for the experiments. Moreover, we thank Markus Weiler (University of Freiburg) for his strong support during the planning of the hillslope experiment and the preparation of the manuscript. This study is part of the DFG-funded CAOS project “From Catchments as Organised
Systems to Models based on Dynamic Functional Units” (FOR 1598). The manuscript was substantially improved based on the critical and constructive comments of the anonymous reviewers, Christian Stamm and Alexander Zimmermann, and the editor Ross Woods during the open review process, which is highly appreciated.