Journal article

Hydrologic response of an alpine watershed: Application of a meteorological wireless sensor network to understand streamflow generation

A field measurement campaign was conducted from June to October 2009 in a 20 km2 catchment of the Swiss Alps with a wireless network of 12 weather stations and river discharge monitoring. The objective was to investigate the spatial variability of meteorological forcing and to assess its impact on streamflow generation. The analysis of the runoff dynamics highlighted the important contribution of snowmelt from spring to early summer. During the entire experimental period, the streamflow discharge was dominated by base flow contributions with temporal variations due to occasional rainfall-runoff events and a regular contribution from glacier melt. Given the importance of snow and ice melt runoff in this catchment, patterns of near-surface air temperatures were studied in detail. Statistical data analyses revealed that meteorological variables inside the watershed exhibit spatial variability. Air temperatures were influenced by topographic effects such as slope, aspect, and elevation. Rainfall was found to be spatially variable inside the catchment. The impact of this variability on streamflow generation was assessed using a lumped degree-day model. Despite the variability within the watershed, the streamflow discharge could be described using the lumped model. The novelty of this work mainly consists in quantifying spatial variability for a small watershed and showing to which extent this is important. When the focus is on aggregated outputs, such as streamflow discharge, average values of meteorological forcing can be adequately used. On the contrary, when the focus is on distributed fields such as evaporation or soil moisture, their estimate can benefit from distributed measurements.

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