Articles | Volume 13, issue 9
30 Sep 2009
 | 30 Sep 2009

Anomaly in the rainfall-runoff behaviour of the Meuse catchment. Climate, land-use, or land-use management?

F. Fenicia, H. H. G. Savenije, and Y. Avdeeva

Abstract. The objective of this paper is to investigate the time variability of catchment characteristics in the Meuse basin through its effect on catchment response. The approach uses a conceptual model to represent rainfall-runoff behaviour of this catchment, and evaluates possible time-dependence of model parameters. The main hypothesis is that conceptual model parameters, although not measurable quantities, are representative of specific catchment attributes (e.g. geology, land-use, land management, topography). Hence, we assume that eventual trends in model parameters are representative of catchment attributes that may have changed over time. The available hydrological record involves ninety years of data, starting in 1911. During this period the Meuse catchment has undergone significant modifications. The catchment structural modifications, although documented, are not available as "hard-data". Hence, our results should be considered as "plausible hypotheses". The main motivation of this work is the "anomaly" found in the rainfall runoff behaviour of the Meuse basin, where ninety years of rainfall-runoff simulations show a consistent overestimation of the runoff in the period between 1930 and 1965. Different authors have debated possible causes for the "anomaly", including climatic variability, land-use change and data errors. None of the authors considered the way in which the land is used by for instance agricultural and forestry practises. This aspect influenced the model design, which has been configured to account for different evaporation demand of growing forest. As a result of our analysis, we conclude that the lag time of the catchment has decreased significantly over time, which we attribute to more intensive drainage and river training works. Furthermore, we hypothesise that forest rotation has had a significant impact on the evaporation of the catchment. These results contrast with previous studies, where the effect of land-use change on the hydrological behaviour of the Meuse catchment was considered negligible, mainly because there was not sufficient change in land cover to account for it. Here we hypothesise that in the Meuse it was not the change of land cover that was responsible for hydrological change, but rather the way the land was managed.