Articles | Volume 17, issue 5
Research article
07 May 2013
Research article |  | 07 May 2013

The effect of spatial throughfall patterns on soil moisture patterns at the hillslope scale

A. M. J. Coenders-Gerrits, L. Hopp, H. H. G. Savenije, and L. Pfister

Abstract. Improving the understanding of the controls on subsurface stormflow generation has been the goal of numerous experimental and modeling studies. However, the effect of the spatial variability of throughfall on soil moisture patterns and subsurface stormflow (SSF) generation has not yet been studied in detail. The objectives of this study are three-fold: (1) to investigate the influence of a spatially variable throughfall pattern on soil moisture; (2) to investigate if soil moisture patterns reflect a balance between a throughfall and bedrock topography patterns; and (3) to investigate how this balance changes when soil depth, storm size and slope angle are varied. Virtual experiments are used to address these questions. A virtual experiment is a numerical experiment driven by collective field intelligence. It provides a learning tool to investigate the effect of individual processes in a complex system. In our virtual experiment we combined spatial throughfall data from the Huewelerbach catchment in Luxembourg with the topography of a well-studied hillslope within the Panola Mountain Research Watershed, Georgia, USA. We used HYDRUS-3D as a modeling platform. The virtual experiment shows that throughfall patterns influence soil moisture patterns, but only during and shortly after a storm. With a semi-variogram analysis we showed how the effective range of the soil moisture pattern (i.e., the main descriptor of a spatial pattern in case of a small nugget to sill ratio), is similar to the effective range of the throughfall pattern during the storm and gradually returns to the effective range of the bedrock topography after throughfall has ceased. The same analysis was carried out to investigate how this balance changes due to changes in storm size, soil depth, and slope. The analysis showed that the throughfall pattern is more important during large storms on gentle slopes. For steeper slopes the bedrock topography becomes more important.