Using hysteretic behaviour and hydrograph classification to identify hydrological function across the “hillslope–depression–stream” continuum in a karst catchment

Runrun Zhang, Xi Chen*, Zhicai Zhang, Chris Soulsby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


In cockpit karst landscapes, fluxes from upland areas contribute large volumes of water to low-lying depressions and stream flow. Hydrograph hysteresis and similarity between monitoring sites is important for understanding the space–time variability of hydrologic responses across the “hillslope–depression–stream” continuum. In this study, the hysteretic feature of hydrographs was assessed by characterizing the loop-like relationships between responses at upstream sites relative to subsurface discharge at the outlet of a small karst catchment. A classification of hydrograph responses based on the multi-scale smoothing Kernel -derived distance classifies the hydrograph responses on the basis of similarities between hillslope and depression sites, and those at the catchment outlet. Results demonstrate that the temporal and spatial variability of hydrograph hysteresis and similarity between hillslope flow and outlet stream flow can be explained by the local heterogeneity of depression aquifer. Large depression storage deficits emerging in the highly heterogeneous aquifer produce strong hysteresis and multiple relationships of upstream hydrographs relative to the outlet subsurface discharge. In contrast, when depression storage deficits are filled during consecutive rainfall events, depression hydrographs at the high permeability sites are almost synchronous or exhibit a monotonous function with the hydrographs at the outlet. This reduced hydrograph hysteresis enhances preferential flow paths in fractured rocks and conduits that can accelerate the hillslope flow to the outlet. Therefore, classification of hydrograph similarities between any upstream sites and the catchment outlet can help to identify the dominant hydrological functions in the heterogeneous karst catchment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3464-3480
Number of pages17
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number16
Early online date2 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information
Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities. Grant Number: 2019B01814
National Natural Science Foundation of China. Grant Numbers: 41571020, 41571130071, 41701016
UK Natural Environment Research Council. Grant Number: NE/N007425/1


  • flow connectivity
  • hydrological similarity
  • hysteretic effect
  • karst


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