Hillslope permeability architecture controls on subsurface transit time distribution and flow paths

A. A. Ameli*, N. Amvrosiadi, T. Grabs, H. Laudon, I. F. Creed, J. J. McDonnell, K. Bishop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Defining the catchment transit time distribution remains a challenge. Here, we used a new semi analytical physically-based integrated subsurface flow and advective dispersive particle movement model to assess the subsurface controls on subsurface water flow paths and transit time distributions. First, we tested the efficacy of the new model for simulation of the observed groundwater dynamics at the well-studied S-transect hillslope (Vastrabacken sub-catchment, Sweden). This system, like many others, is characterized by exponential decline in saturated hydraulic conductivity and porosity with soil depth. The model performed well relative to a tracer-based estimate of transit time distribution as well as observed groundwater depth discharge relationship within 30 m of the stream. Second, we used the model to assess the effect of changes in the subsurface permeability architecture on flow pathlines and transit time distribution in a set of virtual experiments. Vertical patterns of saturated hydraulic conductivity and porosity with soil depth significantly influenced hillslope transit time distribution. Increasing infiltration rates significantly decreased mean groundwater age, but not the distribution of transit times relative to mean groundwater age. The location of hillslope hydrologic boundaries, including the groundwater divide and no-flow boundary underlying the hillslope, changed the transit time distribution less markedly. These results can guide future decisions on the degree of complexity that is warranted in a physically-based rainfall runoff model to efficiently and explicitly estimate time invariant subsurface pathlines and transit time distribution. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-30
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue numberPart A
Early online date7 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank James Craig and Jan Seibert for their support throughout the process. This research was funded by NSERC Discovery Grant and NSERC Accelerator to J.J.M, NSERC Discovery Grant to I.F.C. The Krycklan catchment study is supported by the Swedish Science Foundation (VR) SITES, ForWater (Formas), Future Forest, Kempe Foundation, SLU FOMA and SKB.


  • Time invariant transit time distribution
  • Flow pathline distribution
  • Semi-analytical solution
  • Integrated subsurface flow and transport model
  • Svartberget catchment
  • Saturated-unsaturated flow


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