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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.

  03 Feb 2020

03 Feb 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal HESS.

Characterizing hillslope-stream connectivity with a joint event analysis of stream and groundwater levels

Daniel Beiter1, Markus Weiler2, and Theresa Blume1 Daniel Beiter et al.
  • 1GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, 4.4 Hydrology, Potsdam, Germany
  • 2University of Freiburg, Chair of Hydrology, Freiburg, Germany

Abstract. Hillslope-stream connectivity controls runoff generation, both during events and baseflow conditions. However, assessing subsurface connectivity is a challenging task, as it occurs in the hidden subsurface domain where water flow cannot be easily observed. We therefore investigated if the results of a joint analysis of rainfall event responses of near-stream groundwater levels and stream water levels could serve as a viable proxy for hillslope-stream connectivity. The analysis focuses on the extent of response, correlations, lag times and synchronicity. A newly developed data analysis scheme of separating the aspects of (a) response timing and (b) extent of water level change provides new perspectives on the relationship between groundwater and stream responses. In a second step we investigated if this analysis can give an indication of hillslope-stream connectivity at the catchment scale.

Stream- and groundwater levels were measured at five different hillslopes over 5 to 6 years. Using a new detection algorithm we extracted 706 rainfall response events for subsequent analysis. Carrying out this analysis in two different geological regions (schist and marls) allowed us to test the usefulness of the proxy under different hydrological settings while also providing insight into the geologically-driven differences in response behaviour.

For rainfall events with low initial groundwater level, groundwater level responses often lag behind the stream with respect to the start of rise and the time of peak. This lag disappears at high antecedent groundwater levels. At low groundwater levels the relationship between groundwater and stream water level responses to rainfall are highly variable, while at high groundwater levels, above a certain threshold, this relationship tends to become more uniform. The same threshold was able to predict increased likelihood for high runoff coefficients, indicating a strong increase in connectivity once the groundwater level threshold was surpassed.

The joint analysis of shallow near-stream groundwater and stream water levels provided information on the presence or absence and to a certain extent also on the degree of subsurface hillslope-stream connectivity. The underlying threshold processes were interpreted as transmissivity feedback in the marls and fill-and-spill in the schist. The value of these measurements is high, however, time series of several years and a large number of events are necessary to produce representative results. We also find that locally measured thresholds in groundwater levels can provide insight into catchment-scale connectivity and event response. If the location of the well is chosen wisely, a single time series of shallow groundwater can indicate if the catchment is in a state of high or low connectivity.

Daniel Beiter et al.

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Daniel Beiter et al.

Daniel Beiter et al.


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Latest update: 29 Sep 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
We investigated the interactions between streams and their adjacent hillslopes in terms of water flow. It could be revealed that soil structure has a strong influence on how hillslopes do connect to the streams while the groundwater table tells us a lot about when the two connect. This observations could be used to improve models that try to predict wheter or not hillslopes are in a state where a rain event will be likely to produce a flood in the stream.
We investigated the interactions between streams and their adjacent hillslopes in terms of water...