The diurnal cycle in streamflow constitutes a significant part of the variability in many rivers in the western United States and can be used to understand some of the dominant processes affecting the water balance of a given river basin. Rivers in which water is added diurnally, as in snowmelt, and rivers in which water is removed diurnally, as in evapotranspiration and infiltration, exhibit substantial differences in the timing, relative magnitude, and shape of their diurnal flow variations. Snowmelt-dominated rivers achieve their highest sustained flow and largest diurnal fluctuations during the spring melt season. These fluctuations are characterized by sharp rises and gradual declines in discharge each day. In large snowmelt-dominated basins, at the end of the melt season, the hour of maximum discharge shifts to later in the day as the snow line retreats to higher elevations. Many evapotranspiration/infiltration-dominated rivers in the western states achieve their highest sustained flows during the winter rainy season but exhibit their strongest diurnal cycles during summer months, when discharge is low, and the diurnal fluctuations compose a large percentage of the total flow. In contrast to snowmelt-dominated rivers, the maximum discharge in evapotranspiration/infiltration-dominated rivers occurs consistently in the morning throughout the summer. In these rivers, diurnal changes are characterized by a gradual rise and sharp decline each day.
Additional publication details
Seasonal and spatial patterns in diurnal cycles in streamflow in the western United States