A Simple Runoff Model Based on Topographic Wetness Indices and Soil Moisture for Central New York Agricultural Fields

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Kathryn Hofmeister, Christine Georgakakos and Michael Todd Walter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States
Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution continues to be a leading cause of surface water degradation, especially in agricultural areas. In humid regions where variable source area (VSA) hydrology dominates, such as the Northeastern US, topographic wetness indices (TWI) are good approximations of relative soil moisture patterns. Mapping areas of the landscape likely to generate saturation-excess runoff and carry NPS pollution to surface waters could allow for more efficient, targeted best management practices in agricultural fields. Given the relationship between saturation excess runoff and soil water storage, we used volumetric water content (VWC) measured in five agricultural fields in central New York over two years (2012-2014) to develop runoff probability maps based on a soil topographic index (STI). The relationship between VWC and STI was strongest during the fall season after leaf fall at all sites except one. We calculated the probability of runoff occurring based on soil moisture and precipitation distributions during the sampling period. The threshold for runoff occurs when the depth of soil water and rainfall reach saturation of the soil, and appears to be at the average porosity of the soil at all sites. Counter to our initial hypothesis of a higher probability of saturation excess runoff during the spring when conditions are wetter, some sites showed higher frequencies of runoff during the fall season.