Articles | Volume 14, issue 1
27 Jan 2010
 | 27 Jan 2010

Climate and terrain factors explaining streamflow response and recession in Australian catchments

A. I. J. M. van Dijk

Abstract. Daily streamflow data were analysed to assess which climate and terrain factors best explain streamflow response in 183 Australian catchments. Assessed descriptors of catchment response included the parameters of fitted baseflow models, and baseflow index (BFI), average quick flow and average baseflow derived by baseflow separation. The variation in response between catchments was compared with indicators of catchment climate, morphology, geology, soils and land use. Spatial coherence in the residual unexplained variation was investigated using semi-variogram techniques. A linear reservoir model (one parameter; recession coefficient) produced baseflow estimates as good as those obtained using a non-linear reservoir (two parameters) and for practical purposes was therefore considered an appropriate balance between simplicity and explanatory performance. About a third (27–34%) of the spatial variation in recession coefficients and BFI was explained by catchment climate indicators, with another 53% of variation being spatially correlated over distances of 100–150 km, probably indicative of substrate characteristics not captured by the available soil and geology data. The shortest recession half-times occurred in the driest catchments and were attributed to intermittent occurrence of fast-draining (possibly perched) groundwater. Most (70–84%) of the variation in average baseflow and quick flow was explained by rainfall and climate characteristics; another 20% of variation was spatially correlated over distances of 300–700 km, possibly reflecting a combination of terrain and climate factors. It is concluded that catchment streamflow response can be predicted quite well on the basis of catchment climate alone. The prediction of baseflow recession response should be improved further if relevant substrate properties were identified and measured.