The geomorphic structure of the runoff peak
Abstract. This paper develops a theoretical framework to investigate the core dependence of peak flows on the geomorphic properties of river basins. Based on the theory of transport by travel times, and simple hydrodynamic characterization of floods, this new framework invokes the linearity and invariance of the hydrologic response to provide analytical and semi-analytical expressions for peak flow, time to peak, and area contributing to the peak runoff. These results are obtained for the case of constant-intensity hyetograph using the Intensity-Duration-Frequency (IDF) curves to estimate extreme flow values as a function of the rainfall return period. Results show that, with constant-intensity hyetographs, the time-to-peak is greater than rainfall duration and usually shorter than the basin concentration time. Moreover, the critical storm duration is shown to be independent of rainfall return period as well as the area contributing to the flow peak. The same results are found when the effects of hydrodynamic dispersion are accounted for. Further, it is shown that, when the effects of hydrodynamic dispersion are negligible, the basin area contributing to the peak discharge does not depend on the channel velocity, but is a geomorphic propriety of the basin. As an example this framework is applied to three watersheds. In particular, the runoff peak, the critical rainfall durations and the time to peak are calculated for all links within a network to assess how they increase with basin area.