Use of color maps and wavelet coherence to discern seasonal and interannual climate influences on streamflow variability in northern catchments

Sean K. Carey, Doerthe Tetzlaff, Jim Buttle, Hjalmar Laudon, Jeff McDonnell, Kevin McGuire, Jan Seibert, Chris Soulsby, Jamie Shanley

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The higher mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere are particularly sensitive to change due to the important role the 0oC isotherm plays in the phase of precipitation and intermediate storage as snow. An international inter-catchment comparison program called North-Watch seeks to improve our understanding of the sensitivity of northern catchments to change by examining their hydrological and biogeochemical variability and response. Here, eight North-Watch catchments located in Sweden (Krycklan), Scotland (Girnock and Strontian), the United States (Sleepers River, Hubbard Brook and HJ Andrews) and Canada (Dorset and Wolf Creek) with 10 continuous years of daily precipitation and runoff data were selected to assess daily to seasonal coupling of precipitation (P) and runoff (Q) using wavelet coherency, and to explore the patterns and scales of variability in streamflow using color maps. Wavelet coherency revealed that P and Q were decoupled in catchments with cold winters, yet were strongly coupled during and immediately following the spring snowmelt freshet. In all catchments, coupling at shorter time scales occurred during wet periods when the catchment was responsive and storage deficits were small. At longer time scales, coupling reflected coherence between seasonal cycles, being enhanced at sites with enhanced seasonality in P. Color maps were applied as an alternative method to identify patterns and scales of flow variability. Seasonal versus transient flow variability was identified along with the persistence of that variability on influencing the flow regime. While exploratory in nature, this intercomparison exercise highlights the importance of climate and the 0oC isotherm on the functioning of northern catchments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6194-6207
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number10
Early online date2 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013

Bibliographical note

The authors thank the comments of three anonymous reviewers, particularly for the suggestion of color mapping IQR as a robust measure of dispersion. The North‐Watch project ( is funded by the Leverhulme Trust (F/00 152/AG). The authors are also grateful to those individuals and funding agencies who contributed to gathering the data set presented: Iain Malcolm, Markus Hrachowitz, Julian Dawson for their assistance in generating the database for the Mharcaidh, Strontian, and Girnock catchments. Thanks to staff of the Dorset Environmental Sciences Centre (Ontario Ministry of the Environment) for provision of the data. Ric Janowicz of the Yukon Territorial Government is thanked for the Wolf Creek data. The HJ Andrews team would like to thank Rosemary Fanelli, Tina Garland for assistance with data assembly; John Moreau for data collection, and Don Henshaw for data archiving. The USGS water, Energy and Biogeochemical Budgets (WEBB) program is acknowledged. Hubbard Brook is part of the Long‐Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, which is supported by the US National Science Foundation. The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest is operated and maintained by the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, PA.


  • Runoff
  • color map
  • wavelet coherence
  • catchment intercomparison


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