Articles | Volume 17, issue 2
Research article
27 Feb 2013
Research article |  | 27 Feb 2013

Are streamflow recession characteristics really characteristic?

M. Stoelzle, K. Stahl, and M. Weiler

Abstract. Streamflow recession has been investigated by a variety of methods, often involving the fit of a model to empirical recession plots to parameterize a non-linear storage–outflow relationship based on the dQ/dtQ method. Such recession analysis methods (RAMs) are used to estimate hydraulic conductivity, storage capacity, or aquifer thickness and to model streamflow recession curves for regionalization and prediction at the catchment scale. Numerous RAMs have been published, but little is known about how comparably the resulting recession models distinguish characteristic catchment behavior. In this study we combined three established recession extraction methods with three different parameter-fitting methods to the power-law storage–outflow model to compare the range of recession characteristics that result from the application of these different RAMs. Resulting recession characteristics including recession time and corresponding storage depletion were evaluated for 20 meso-scale catchments in Germany. We found plausible ranges for model parameterization; however, calculated recession characteristics varied over two orders of magnitude. While recession characteristics of the 20 catchments derived with the different methods correlate strongly, particularly for the RAMs that use the same extraction method, not all rank the catchments consistently, and the differences among some of the methods are larger than among the catchments. To elucidate this variability we discuss the ambiguous roles of recession extraction procedures and the parameterization of the storage–outflow model and the limitations of the presented recession plots. The results suggest strong limitations to the comparability of recession characteristics derived with different methods, not only in the model parameters but also in the relative characterization of different catchments. A multiple-methods approach to investigating streamflow recession characteristics should be considered for applications whenever possible.