Articles | Volume 17, issue 1
Research article
14 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 14 Jan 2013

Scale effect on overland flow connectivity at the plot scale

A. Peñuela, M. Javaux, and C. L. Bielders

Abstract. A major challenge in present-day hydrological sciences is to enhance the performance of existing distributed hydrological models through a better description of subgrid processes, in particular the subgrid connectivity of flow paths. The Relative Surface Connection (RSC) function was proposed by Antoine et al. (2009) as a functional indicator of runoff flow connectivity. For a given area, it expresses the percentage of the surface connected to the outflow boundary (C) as a function of the degree of filling of the depression storage. This function explicitly integrates the flow network at the soil surface and hence provides essential information regarding the flow paths' connectivity. It has been shown that this function could help improve the modeling of the hydrograph at the square meter scale, yet it is unknown how the scale affects the RSC function, and whether and how it can be extrapolated to other scales. The main objective of this research is to study the scale effect on overland flow connectivity (RSC function). For this purpose, digital elevation data of a real field (9 × 3 m) and three synthetic fields (6 × 6 m) with contrasting hydrological responses were used, and the RSC function was calculated at different scales by changing the length (l) or width (w) of the field. To different extents depending on the microtopography, border effects were observed for the smaller scales when decreasing l or w, which resulted in a strong decrease or increase of the maximum depression storage, respectively. There was no scale effect on the RSC function when changing w, but a remarkable scale effect was observed in the RSC function when changing l. In general, for a given degree of filling of the depression storage, C decreased as l increased, the change in C being inversely proportional to the change in l. However, this observation applied only up to approx. 50–70% (depending on the hydrological response of the field) of filling of depression storage, after which no correlation was found between C and l. The results of this study help identify the minimal scale to study overland flow connectivity. At scales larger than the minimal scale, the RSC function showed a great potential to be extrapolated to other scales.