Sources of Surface Water in Space and Time: Identification of Delivery Processes and Geographical Sources With Hydraulic Mixing-Cell Modeling

Barbara Glaser, Luisa Hopp, Daniel Partington, Philip Brunner, René Therrien, Julian Klaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Knowledge of the sources of surface water in riparian zones and floodplains is critical to understanding its role in runoff generation and impact on biogeochemical and ecological processes. In this study, we demonstrate the potential of integrated surface-subsurface hydrologic modeling (HydroGeoSphere) in combination with a hydraulic mixing-cell approach to decipher different sources of surface water and their mixing in space and time. We present a novel approach to processing the model data that allowed us to compare which mechanisms ultimately transferred water to the surface (delivery processes) and from where the surface water originated (geographical sources) for varying wetness states and phases of wetting or drying across 36 test locations within the riparian-stream continuum of an intensively-studied, humid-temperate, forested headwater catchment (45 ha). Consistent with current process understanding for the study site, water exfiltrating from the subsurface was simulated as the dominant source for riparian surface water and intermittent streamflow. The model further helped to specify the relevance of different subsurface stores, revealing a wetness-dependent activation of upslope source areas. Contributions of riparian overland flow and precipitation were minor during all investigated phases of wetting and drying. Moreover, the spatial variability of surface water sources proved to be smaller than expected for the heterogeneous patterns and frequencies of the surface saturation observed and simulated. Based on these findings, we discuss the value of hydraulic mixing-cell modeling to complement the planning and interpretation of field investigations and to enhance process understanding regarding the spatio-temporal sources of surface water.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021WR030332
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • flowpaths
  • geographical sources
  • hydraulic mixing modeling
  • HydroGeoSphere
  • riparian-stream-continuum
  • surface water


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