A case study on the use of appropriate surrogates for antecedent moisture conditions (AMCs)
Abstract. While a large number of non-linear hillslope and catchment rainfall-runoff responses have been attributed to the temporal variability in antecedent moisture conditions (AMCs), two problems emerge: (1) the difficulty of measuring AMCs, and (2) the absence of explicit guidelines for the choice of surrogates or proxies for AMCs. This paper aims at determining whether or not multiple surrogates for AMCs should be used in order not to bias our understanding of a system hydrological behaviour. We worked in a small forested catchment, the Hermine, where soil moisture has been measured at 121 different locations at four depths on 16 occasions. Without making any assumption on active processes, we used various linear and nonlinear regression models (i.e. linear, quadratic, cubic, exponential, logarithmic and logistic) to evaluate the point-scale temporal relations between actual soil moisture contents and selected meteorological-based surrogates for AMCs. We then mapped the nature of the "best fit" model to identify (1) spatial clusters of soil moisture monitoring sites whose hydrological behaviour was similar, and (2) potential topographic influences on these behaviours. Two conclusions stood out. Firstly, it was shown that the sole reference to AMCs indices traditionally used in catchment hydrology, namely antecedent rainfall amounts summed over periods of seven or ten days, would have led to an incomplete understanding of the Hermine catchment dynamics. Secondly, the relationships between point-scale soil moisture content and surrogates for AMCs were not spatially homogeneous, thus revealing a mosaic of linear and nonlinear catchment "active" and "contributing" sources whose locations were seldom controlled by surface terrain attributes or the topography of a soil-confining layer interface. These results represent a step forward for the Hermine catchment as they point towards depth-specific processes and spatially-variable triggering conditions that are not controlled by topography. Further investigations are, however, necessary in order to derive general guidelines for the choice of the best surrogates for AMCs in a catchment.