Recent advances towards a theory of catchment hydrologic transport: age-ranked storage and the Ω-functions

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 11:35 AM
Ciaran J Harman, Johns Hopkins University, Geography and Environmental Engineering, Baltimore, MD, United States
Models that faithfully represent spatially-integrated hydrologic transport through the critical zone at sub-watershed scales are essential building blocks for large-scale models of land use and climate controls on non-point source contaminant delivery. A particular challenge facing these models is the need to represent the delay between inputs of soluble contaminants (such as nitrate) at the field scale, and the solute load that appears in streams. Recent advances in the theory of time-variable transit time distributions (e.g. Botter et al., GRL 38(L11403), 2011) have provided a rigorous framework for representing conservative solute transport and its coupling to hydrologic variability and partitioning.

Here I will present a reformulation of this framework that offers several distinct advantages over existing formulations: 1) the derivation of the governing conservation equation is simple and intuitive, 2) the closure relations are expressed in a convenient and physically meaningful way as probability distributions Ω(ST) over the storage ranked by age ST, and 3) changes in transport behavior determined by storage-dependent dilution and flow-path dynamics (as distinct from those due only to changes in the rates and partitioning of water flux) are completely encapsulated by these probability distributions.

The framework has been implemented to model to the rich dataset of long-term stream and precipitation chloride from the Plynlimon watershed in Wales, UK. With suitable choices for the functional form of the closure relationships, only a small number of free parameters are required to reproduce the observed chloride dynamics as well as previous models with many more parameters, including reproducing the observed fractal 1/f filtering of the streamflow chloride variability. The modeled transport dynamics are sensitive to the input precipitation variability and water balance partitioning to evapotranspiration. Apparent storage-dependent age-sampling suggests that the model can account for shifts in flow pathways across high and low flows. This approach suggests a path forward for catchment-scale coupled flow and transport modeling.