What Triggers Streamflow for Intermittent Rivers and Ephemeral Streams in Low-Gradient Catchments in Mediterranean Climates

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Abstract

Intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES) account for over 50% of the world's river network and are expected to increase with climate change and the increasing pressure on water resources. One significant challenge to better manage IRES is unraveling the threshold behavior of streamflow generation, by understanding what controls the triggers of streamflow. This study aimed to understand the influence of groundwater depth, soil hydraulic properties, and rainfall on streamflow generation in IRES, through analyzing the spatiotemporal development of active areas (where flow generation processes are occurring) and determining the dominant flow generation mechanisms. In a concept-development approach, we used fully Integrated Surface-Subsurface Hydrological Models to investigate streamflow generation for a range of characteristics representative of IRES in low-gradient catchments with Mediterranean climates. The results showed that soil type exerts the greatest overall influence on streamflow generation and is the main factor determining the spatiotemporal development of active areas by a given flow generation mechanism and threshold contributing processes. The identified dominant mechanism for each soil demonstrated the effect of the initial groundwater head and rainfall scenarios on the timing and processes that trigger streamflow onset. These results reaffirm the importance of unsaturated storage dynamics to explain thresholds and pathways of flow and suggest that knowledge of the development of active areas and prediction of the dominant flow generation mechanisms is critical to understand streamflow generation in IRES. Future research should identify the influence of catchment morphology, geologic constraints, and aquifer heterogeneity and anisotropy on streamflow generation in IRES.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9926-9946
Number of pages21
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume55
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

Keywords

  • Hydrological processes
  • Integrated surface-subsurface modeling
  • Intermittent Rivers and Ephemeral Streams
  • Streamflow generation

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