Analysis of the runoff response of an alpine catchment at different scales
Abstract. To understand how hydrological processes are related across different spatial scales, 201 rainfall runoff events were examined in three nested catchments of the upper river Saalach in the Austrian Alps. The Saalach basin is a nested catchment covering different spatial scales, from the micro-scale (Limberg, 0.07 km²), to the small-catchment scale (Rammern, 15.5 km²), and the meso-scale (Viehhofen, 150 km²). At these three scales two different event types could clearly be identified, depending on rainfall characteristics and initial baseflow level: (1) a unimodal event type with a quick rising and falling hydrograph, responding to short duration rainfall, and (2) a bimodal event type with a double peak hydrograph at the micro-scale and substantially increased flow values at the larger basins Rammern and Viehhofen, responding to long duration rainfall events. In all cases where a bimodal event was identified at the microscale, the hydrographs at the larger scales exhibited significantly attenuated recession behavior, quantified by recession constants. At all scales, the bimodal events are associated with considerably higher runoff volumes than the unimodal events. From the investigations at the headwater Limberg we came to the conclusion that the higher amount of runoff of bimodal events is due to the mobilization of subsurface flow processes. The analysis shows that the occurrence of the two event types is consistent over three orders of magnitude in area. This link between the scales means that the runoff behavior of the headwater may be used as an indicator of the runoff behavior of much larger areas.