Journal article

Comparative study of ecohydrological streamflow probability distributions

We run a comparative study of ecohydrological models of streamflow probability distributions (pdfs), p(Q), derived by Botter et al. (2007a, 2009), against field data gathered in different hydrological contexts. Streamflows measured in several catchments across various climatic regions of northeastern Italy and the United States are employed. The relevance of the work stems from the implied analytical predictive ability of hydrologic variability, whose role on stream and riparian ecological processes and large-scale management schemes is fundamental. The tools employed are analytical models of p(Q) (and of the related flow duration curve, D(Q)) derived by coupling suitable storage-discharge relations with a stochastic description of streamflow production through soil moisture dynamics, and are expressed as a function of few macroscopic rainfall, soil, vegetation and geomorphological parameters. In this work we compare the performances of a recent version of the model (which includes the effects of nonlinear subsurface storage-discharge relations) to those provided by the linear version through the application of the models to 13 test catchments belonging to various climatic and geomorphic contexts. A general agreement between predicted and observed daily streamflows pdfs is shown, though differences emerge between the linear and the nonlinear approaches. In particular, by including the effects of a nonlinear storage-discharge relation the model accuracy is shown to increase with respect to the linear scheme in most examined cases. We show that this is not simply attributable to the added parameter but corresponds to a proper likelihood increase. The nonlinear model is shown to exhibit three basic forms for p(Q) (monotonically decreasing with an atom of probability in Q = 0, bell-shaped with the mode close to zero, bell-shaped with the mode close to the mean), corresponding to different hydrologic regimes which are clearly detectable in field data. Inferences on the nonlinear character of the relation between subsurface storage and discharge from observed p(Q) are finally drawn.

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