Relating watershed structure to streamflow generation is a primary focus of hydrology. However, comparisons of longitudinal variability in stream discharge with adjacent valley structure have been rare, resulting in poor understanding of the distribution of the hydrologic mechanisms that cause variability in streamflow generation along valleys. This study explores detailed surveys of stream base flow across a gauged, 23 km2 mountain watershed. Research objectives were (1) to relate spatial variability in base flow to fundamental elements of watershed structure, primarily topographic contributing area, and (2) to assess temporal changes in the spatial patterns of those relationships during a seasonal base flow recession. We analyzed spatiotemporal variability in base flow using (1) summer hydrographs at the study watershed outlet and 5 subwatershed outlets and (2) longitudinal series of discharge measurements every ~100 m along the streams of the 3 largest subwatersheds (1200 to 2600 m in valley length), repeated 2 to 3 times during base flow recession. Reaches within valley segments of 300 to 1200 m in length tended to demonstrate similar streamflow generation characteristics. Locations of transitions between these segments were consistent throughout the recession, and tended to be collocated with abrupt longitudinal transitions in valley slope or hillslope-riparian characteristics. Both within and among subwatersheds, correlation between the spatial distributions of streamflow and topographic contributing area decreased during the recession, suggesting a general decrease in the influence of topography on stream base flow contributions. As topographic controls on base flow evidently decreased, multiple aspects of subsurface structure were likely to have gained influence.
Additional publication details
Exploring changes in the spatial distribution of stream baseflow generation during a seasonal recession