Articles | Volume 15, issue 9
Research article
09 Sep 2011
Research article |  | 09 Sep 2011

Towards reconstruction of the flow duration curve: development of a conceptual framework with a physical basis

Y. Yokoo and M. Sivapalan

Abstract. In this paper we investigate the climatic and landscape controls on the flow duration curve (FDC) with the use of a physically-based rainfall-runoff model. The FDC is a stochastic representation of the variability of runoff, which arises from the transformation, by the catchment, of within-year variability of precipitation that can itself be characterized by a corresponding duration curve for precipitation (PDC). Numerical simulations are carried out with the rainfall-runoff model under a variety of combinations of climatic inputs (i.e. precipitation, potential evaporation, including their within-year variability) and landscape properties (i.e. soil type and depth). The simulations indicated that the FDC can be disaggregated into two components, with sharply differing characteristics and origins: the FDC for surface (fast) runoff (SFDC) and the FDC for subsurface (slow) runoff (SSFDC), which included base flow in our analysis. SFDC closely tracked PDC and can be approximated with the use of a simple, nonlinear (threshold) filter model. On the other hand, SSFDC tracked the FDC that is constructed from the regime curve (i.e. mean monthly runoff), which can be closely approximated by a linear filter model. Sensitivity analyses were carried out to understand the climate and landscape controls on each component, gaining useful physical insights into their respective shapes. In particular the results suggested that evaporation from dynamic saturated areas, especially in the dry season, can contribute to a sharp dip at the lower tail of the FDCs. Based on these results, we develop a conceptual framework for the reconstruction of FDCs in ungauged basins. This framework partitions the FDC into: (1) a fast flow component, governed by a filtered version of PDC, (2) a slow flow component governed by the regime curve, and (3) a correction to SSFDC to capture the effects of high evapotranspiration (ET) at low flows.