Modeling hyporheic exchange and in-stream transport with time-varying transit time distributions

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Ashley Ball, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, United States, Ciaran J Harman, Johns Hopkins University, Geography and Environmental Engineering, Baltimore, MD, United States and Adam S Ward, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, United States
Transit time distributions (TTD) are used to understand in-stream transport and exchange with the hyporheic zone by quantifying the probability of water (and of dissolved material) taking time T to traverse the stream reach control volume. However, many studies using this method assume a TTD that is time-invariant, despite the time-variability of the streamflow. Others assume that storage is ‘randomly sampled’ or ‘well-mixed’ with a fixed volume or fixed exchange rate. Here we present a formulation for a time-variable TTD that relaxes both the time-invariant and ‘randomly sampled’ assumptions and only requires a few parameters. The framework is applied to transient storage, representing some combination of in-stream and hyporheic storage, along a stream reach. This approach does not assume that hyporheic and dead-zone storage is fixed or temporally-invariant, and allows for these stores to be sampled in more physically representative ways determined by the system itself. Instead of using probability distributions of age, probability distributions of storage (ranked by age) called Ω functions are used to describe how the off-stream storage is sampled in the outflow. Here the Ω function approach is used to describe hyporheic exchange during diurnal fluctuations in streamflow in a gaining reach of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. The breakthrough curves of salt slugs injected four hours apart over a 28-hour period show a systematic variation in transit time distribution. This new approach allows us to relate these salt slug TTDs to a corresponding time-variation in the Ω function, which can then be related to changes in in-stream storage and hyporheic zone mobilization under varying flow conditions. Thus, we can gain insights into how channel storage and hyporheic exchange are changing through time without having to specify difficult to measure or unmeasurable quantities of our system, such as total storage.