Storage dynamics in hydropedological units control hillslope connectivity, runoff generation, and the evolution of catchment transit time distributions

Doerthe Tetzlaff, Christian Birkel, Jonathan James Dick, Josie Geris, Christopher Soulsby

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211 Citations (Scopus)
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We examined the storage dynamics and isotopic composition of soil water over 12 months in three hydropedological units in order to understand runoff generation in a montane catchment. The units form classic catena sequences from freely draining podzols on steep upper hillslopes through peaty gleys in shallower lower slopes to deeper peats in the riparian zone. The peaty gleys and peats remained saturated throughout the year, while the podzols showed distinct wetting and drying cycles. In this region, most precipitation events are <10 mm in magnitude, and storm runoff is mainly generated from the peats and peaty gleys, with runoff coefficients (RCs) typically <10%. In larger events the podzolic soils become strongly connected to the saturated areas, and RCs can exceed 40%. Isotopic variations in precipitation are significantly damped in the organic-rich soil surface horizons due to mixing with larger volumes of stored water. This damping is accentuated in the deeper soil profile and groundwater. Consequently, the isotopic composition of stream water is also damped, but the dynamics strongly reflect those of the near-surface waters in the riparian peats. “pre-event” water typically accounts for >80% of flow, even in large events, reflecting the displacement of water from the riparian soils that has been stored in the catchment for >2 years. These riparian areas are the key zone where different source waters mix. Our study is novel in showing that they act as “isostats,” not only regulating the isotopic composition of stream water, but also integrating the transit time distribution for the catchment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)969-985
Number of pages17
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
Early online date6 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014

Bibliographical note

We thank the European Research Council (ERC; project GA 335910 VEWA) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC; project NE/K000268/1) for funding. We would like to thank Konrad Piegat for invaluable help with the fieldwork. Iain Malcolm and staff at Marine Scotland (Pitlochry) are also thanked for the provision of data from the AWS. We also thank three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


  • rainfall-runoff
  • isotopes
  • transit times
  • peat
  • riparian zone
  • hydropedology
  • connectivity
  • soils


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