Using hydrochemical tracers to conceptualise hydrological function in a larger scale catchment draining contrasting geologic provinces

R. Capell, D. Tetzlaff, I. A. Malcolm, A. J. Hartley, C. Soulsby

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27 Citations (Scopus)


A year-long multivariate tracer study in the 749 km(2) catchment of the North-Esk in north east Scotland was carried out to infer the dominant runoff generation processes in two markedly different geologic provinces. The upper 60% of the catchment has montane headwaters dominated by impermeable metamorphic rocks, steep topography, peaty soils and a sub-arctic climate with over 1400 mm of precipitation. The lowlands of the catchment are underlain by a major sandstone aquifer, and mainly have freely draining, fertile soils that support intensive arable farming under a drier climate with around 800 mm of precipitation. Storm runoff in the uplands is dominated by near-surface processes in soils and sedimentary layers which generate around 60% of annual stream flows with water of low alkalinity and ionic strength. In contrast, tributaries in the lower parts of the catchment are dominated by groundwater-fed base flows which account for 75% of annual runoff and are characterised by alkaline waters with high concentrations of base cations and high levels of nitrate. Multivariate statistical methods were used to derive a generic typology of catchment source waters, their spatial and temporal dynamics and particularly, how they integrate together at the larger catchment scale. The uplands dominate the winter high flow response of the whole catchment. The influence of lowland groundwater from major aquifers becomes more apparent under low flows. However, groundwater from small upland aquifers plays a critical role for ecosystem service in dry periods providing baseflows which dilute pollutant inputs from lowland areas at the large catchment scale. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-177
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number1-2
Early online date29 Jul 2011
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2011


  • Hydrochemical tracers
  • Catchment functioning
  • Runoff generation processes
  • Mesoscale catchment
  • Multivariate statistics
  • Cluster analysis
  • Different spatial scales
  • Mean residence time
  • Transit times
  • Stream water
  • Mid-Wales
  • Hydrograph separation
  • Cairngorm Mountains
  • Scottish catchment
  • Cluster-analysis


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