Transit time distributions of a conceptual model: Their characteristics and sensitivities

S. M. Dunn, C. Birkel, Doerthe Tetzlaff, C. Soulsby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


The internal behaviour of a conceptual hydrological and tracer transport model, STREAM, has been examined through generation of transit time distributions for the model. The model has been applied to a small sub-catchment of the Lunan Water in the east of Scotland where daily precipitation and stream water samples have been analysed for isotope content. Transit time distributions are generated by numerically tracking pulse inputs of tracer to the model and evaluating the simulated stream outputs. A set of baseline simulations was first established through calibration to time series of stream flow. A series of model experiments was then undertaken to assess the sensitivity of the simulated transit time distributions to different model parameterizations, flow paths and mixing assumptions. The results of the analysis show that the model transit time distributions do not conform to any simple statistical function and that their characteristics can be significantly altered depending on how the model is set up. The analysis provided valuable insight into the functioning of the model and could be usefully applied to other model codes. Comparison of the transit time distributions generated by conceptual models with data-based empirical evidence of distributions gives the potential to close the gap in understanding the physical explanation for why catchment systems behave as they do.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1719-1729
Number of pages11
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number12
Early online date26 Jan 2010
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2010


  • transit time
  • model
  • distribution
  • mixing
  • catchment
  • tracer
  • headwater catchments
  • Northeast Scotland
  • isotope hydrology
  • stream chemistry
  • residence times
  • water
  • flow
  • transport
  • plynlimon
  • tritium


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