Use of deuterium to understand runoff generation in a headwater catchment containing a dambo
- Address of all authors: Institute of Hydrology, Maclean Building, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB.
Abstract. Dambos, seasonally saturated wetlands, are widespread in headwater catchments in southern Africa and play an important role in the regional hydrological cycle. However, the processes influencing runoff from these catchments are poorly understood. This paper reports an isotopic investigation of runoff-generating mechanisms within a Zimbabwean catchment containing a dambo. Hydrograph separation using deuterium reveals that, once the dambo is saturated, up to 70% of total storm flow can be considered "new" water (i.e. derived directly from rainfall generating the runoff event). However, both the total proportion and the instantaneous maximum amount of "new" water in hydrographs are sensitive to rainfall characteristics and antecedent conditions. These results are (1) compatible with observations made in catchments in temperate climates when wetlands are present, and contrast with results obtained when wetlands are absent and (2) consistent with saturation overland flow, generated in saturated regions of the dambo, being the major storm runoff mechanism. To reconcile these observations with past perceptions that dambos attenuate flood flows, a dual role for dambos in storm flow production is postulated.