Taking theory to the field: Streamflow generation mechanisms in an intermittent Mediterranean catchment

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Streamflow dynamics for non-perennial networks remain poorly understood. The highly nonlinear unsaturated dynamics associated with the transitions between wetting and drying in non-perennial systems make modelling cumbersome. This has stifled previous modelling attempts and alludes to why there is still a knowledge gap. In this study, we first construct a conceptual model of the physical processes of streamflow generation in an intermittent river system in South Australia, based on the hypothesis that the vertical and longitudinal soil heterogeneity and topography in a basin control short term (fast flows), seasonal (slow flow), and a mixture of these two. We then construct and parameterise a fully integrated surface-subsurface hydrologic model to examine patterns and mechanisms of streamflow generation within the catchment. A set of scenarios are explored to understand the influences of topography and soil heterogeneity across the catchment. The results showed that distinct flow generation mechanisms develop in the three conceptualised areas with marked soil and topographic characteristics and suggested that capturing the order of magnitude for the average hydraulic conductivity of each soil type across the catchment was more important than pinpointing exact soil hydraulic properties. This study augments our understanding of catchment-scale streamflow generation processes, while also providing insight on the challenges of implementing physically based integrated surface-subsurface hydrological models in non-perennial stream catchments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4299-4317
Number of pages19
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2021


  • Streamflow dynamics
  • non-perennial networks
  • water scarcity
  • nonlinear unsaturated dynamics
  • non-perennial systems
  • intermittent river systems
  • streamflow generation
  • surface–subsurface hydrologic model


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