Saturated areas through the lens: 2. Spatio-temporal variability of streamflow generation and its relationship with surface saturation

Marta Antonelli*, Barbara Glaser, Adriaan J. Teuling, Julian Klaus, Laurent Pfister

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Investigating the spatio-temporal variability of streamflow generation is fundamental to interpret the hydrological and biochemical functioning of catchments. In humid temperate environments, streamflow generation is often linked to the occurrence of near stream surface saturated areas, which mediate hydrological connectivity between hillslopes and streams. In this second contribution of a series of two papers, we used salt dilution gauging to investigate the spatio-temporal variability of streamflow in different subcatchments and for different reaches in the Weierbach catchment (0.42 km2) and explored the topographical controls on streamflow variability. Moreover, we mapped stream network expansion and contraction dynamics. Finally, we combined the information on the spatio-temporal variability of streamflow with the characterization of riparian surface saturation dynamics of seven different areas within the catchment (mapped with thermal infrared imagery, as presented in our first manuscript). We found heterogeneities in the streamflow contribution from different portions of the catchment. Although the size of the contributing area could explain differences in subcatchments' and reaches' net discharge, no clear topographic controls could be found when considering the area-normalized discharge. This suggests that some local conditions exert control on the variability of specific discharge (e.g., local bedrock characteristics and occurrence of perennial springs). Stream network dynamics were found not to be very responsive to changes in catchment's discharge (i.e., total active stream length vs. stream outlet discharge relationship could be described through a power law function with exponent = 0.0195). On the contrary, surface saturation dynamics were found to be in agreement with the level of streamflow contribution from the correspondent reach in some of the investigated riparian areas. This study represents an example of how the combination of different techniques can be used to characterize the internal heterogeneity of the catchment and thus improve our understanding of how hydrological connectivity is established and streamflow is generated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1333-1349
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number6
Early online date25 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2020


  • catchment hydrology
  • hydrological connectivity
  • intracatchments variability
  • riparian processes
  • stream network dynamics
  • streamflow generation
  • surface saturation dynamics
  • topographic controls

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