Articles | Volume 20, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 279–297, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-20-279-2016
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 279–297, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-20-279-2016

Research article 19 Jan 2016

Research article | 19 Jan 2016

Aggregation in environmental systems – Part 1: Seasonal tracer cycles quantify young water fractions, but not mean transit times, in spatially heterogeneous catchments

J. W. Kirchner

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ED: Publish subject to minor revisions (Editor review) (05 Sep 2015) by Thom Bogaard
AR by James Kirchner on behalf of the Authors (26 Oct 2015)  Author's response    Manuscript
ED: Publish as is (02 Dec 2015) by Thom Bogaard
Short summary
Catchment mean transit times have been widely inferred from seasonal cycles of environmental tracers in precipitation and streamflow. Here I show that these cycles yield strongly biased estimates of mean transit times in spatially heterogeneous catchments (and, by implication, in real-world catchments). However, I also show that these cycles can be used to reliably estimate the fraction of "young" water in streamflow, meaning water that fell as precipitation less than roughly 2–3 months ago.