Articles | Volume 15, issue 9
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2895–2911, 2011

Special issue: Catchment classification and PUB

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2895–2911, 2011

Research article 15 Sep 2011

Research article | 15 Sep 2011

Catchment classification: empirical analysis of hydrologic similarity based on catchment function in the eastern USA

K. Sawicz1, T. Wagener1, M. Sivapalan2,3, P. A. Troch4, and G. Carrillo4 K. Sawicz et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, 212 Sackett Building, University Park, PA16802, USA
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Geography, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA
  • 3Department of Water Management, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
  • 4Department of Hydrology and Water Resources, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Abstract. Hydrologic similarity between catchments, derived from similarity in how catchments respond to precipitation input, is the basis for catchment classification, for transferability of information, for generalization of our hydrologic understanding and also for understanding the potential impacts of environmental change. An important question in this context is, how far can widely available hydrologic information (precipitation-temperature-streamflow data and generally available physical descriptors) be used to create a first order grouping of hydrologically similar catchments? We utilize a heterogeneous dataset of 280 catchments located in the Eastern US to understand hydrologic similarity in a 6-dimensional signature space across a region with strong environmental gradients. Signatures are defined as hydrologic response characteristics that provide insight into the hydrologic function of catchments. A Bayesian clustering scheme is used to separate the catchments into 9 homogeneous classes, which enable us to interpret hydrologic similarity with respect to similarity in climatic and landscape attributes across this region. We finally derive several hypotheses regarding controls on individual signatures from the analysis performed here.