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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  23 Jul 2020

23 Jul 2020

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A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Discussion on key challenges facing the application of the conductivity mass-balance (CMB) method: a case study of the Mississippi River Basin

Hang Lyu1,2, Chenxi Xia1,2, Jinghan Zhang1,2, and Bo Li1,2 Hang Lyu et al.
  • 1Key Laboratory of Groundwater Resources and Environment (Jilin University), Ministry of Education, Changchun 130026, China
  • 2Jilin Provincial Key Laboratory of Water Resources and Environment, Jilin University, Changchun 130026, China

Abstract. The conductivity mass-balance (CMB) method uses basin and site-specific, widely available discharge and conductivity data. The method is favored by hydrologists and has a long history of application to baseflow separation studies. However, certain aspects of the method remain unstandardized, including the determination of the applicability of this method for a specific area, minimum data requirements for baseflow separation and the most accurate parameter calculation method. This study collected and analyzed stream discharge and water conductivity data for over 200 stream sites at large spatial (2.77 km2 to 2 915 834 km2 watersheds) and temporal (up to 56 years) scales in the Mississippi River Basin. The suitability criteria and key factors influencing the applicability of CMB method were identified based on the analysis of the spatial distribution of the inverse correlation coefficient between stream discharge and conductivity and the rationality of baseflow separation results. Sensitivity analysis, uncertainty assessment and T-test were used to identify the parameter the method was most sensitive to, and the uncertainties of baseflow separation results obtained from different parameter determination methods and various sampling durations were compared. The results indicated that the inverse correlation coefficient between discharge and conductivity can be used to quantitatively determine the applicability of the CMB method, while the CMB method is more applicable in tributaries, headwater reaches, high altitudes and regions with little influence from anthropogenic activities. A minimum of six-month discharge and conductivity data was found to provide reliable parameters for the CMB method with acceptable errors, and it is recommended that the parameters SCRO and SCBF be determined by the 99th percentile and dynamic 99th percentile methods, respectively. The results of this study can provide an important basis for the standardized treatment of key problems in the application of the CMB.

Hang Lyu et al.

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Hang Lyu et al.


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Latest update: 26 Oct 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Baseflow separation plays a critical role in science-based management of water resources. This study addressed the key challenges hindering the application of the generally accepted CMB baseflow separation method. Monitoring data for over 200 stream sites of Mississippi River Basin were collected to answer the following questions: What are the characteristics of a watershed that determine the method suitability? What length of monitoring data is needed? How can the parameters be more accurately?
Baseflow separation plays a critical role in science-based management of water resources. This...