Articles | Volume 15, issue 4
Research article
29 Apr 2011
Research article |  | 29 Apr 2011

Effect of high-resolution spatial soil moisture variability on simulated runoff response using a distributed hydrologic model

J. Minet, E. Laloy, S. Lambot, and M. Vanclooster

Abstract. The importance of spatial variability of antecedent soil moisture conditions on runoff response is widely acknowledged in hillslope hydrology. Using a distributed hydrologic model, this paper aims at investigating the effects of soil moisture spatial variability on runoff in various field conditions and at finding the structure of the soil moisture pattern that approaches the measured soil moisture pattern in terms of field scale runoff. High spatial resolution soil moisture was surveyed in ten different field campaigns using a proximal ground penetrating radar (GPR) mounted on a mobile platform. Based on these soil moisture measurements, seven scenarios of spatial structures of antecedent soil moisture were used and linked with a field scale distributed hydrological model to simulate field scale runoff. Accounting for spatial variability of soil moisture resulted in general in higher predicted field scale runoff as compared to the case where soil moisture was kept constant. The ranges of possible hydrographs were delineated by extreme scenarios where soil moisture was directly and inversely modelled according to the topographic wetness index (TWI). These behaviours could be explained by the sizes and locations of runoff contributing areas, knowing that runoff was generated by infiltration excess over a certain soil moisture threshold. The most efficient scenario for modelling the within field spatial structure of soil moisture appeared to be when soil moisture is directly arranged according to the TWI, especially when measured soil moisture and TWI were correlated. The novelty of this work is to benefit from a large set of high-resolution soil moisture measurements allowing to model effectively the within field distribution of soil moisture and its impact on the field scale hydrograph. These observations contributed to the current knowledge of the impact of antecedent soil moisture spatial variability on field scale runoff.