Factors controlling the partitioning of old and new water contributions to stream flow were investigated for three events in four catchments (three of which were nested) at Sleepers River Research Watershed in Danville, Vermont. In the 1993 snowmelt period, two-component isotopic hydrograph separations showed that new water (meltwater) inputs to the stream ranged widely from 41 to 74%, and increased with catchment size (41 to 11 125 ha) (with one exception) and with open land cover (0-73%). Peak dissolved organic carbon concentrations and relative alkalinity dilution in stream water ranked in the same order among catchments as the new water fractions, suggesting that new water followed shallow flow paths. During the 1994 snowmelt, despite similar timing and magnitude of melt inputs, the new-water contribution to stream flow ranged only from 30 to 36% in the four catchments. We conclude that the uncommonly high and variable new water fractions in streamwater during the 1993 melt were caused by direct runoff of meltwater over frozen ground, which was prevalent in open land areas during the 1993 winter. In a high-intensity summer rainstorm in 1993, new water fractions were smaller relative to the 1993 snowmelt, ranging from 28 to 46%, but they ranked in the identical catchment order. Reconciliation of the contrasting patterns of new-old water partitioning in the three events appears to require an explanation that invokes multiple processes and effects, including: 1 topographically controlled increase in surface-saturated area with increasing catchment size; 2 direct runoff over frozen ground; 3 low infiltration in agriculturally compacted soils; 4 differences in soil transmissivity, which may be more relevant under dry antecedent conditions. These data highlight some of the difficulties faced by catchment hydrologists in formulating a theory of runoff generation at varying basin scales. Copyright ?? 2002 John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
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Controls on old and new water contributions to stream flow at some nested catchments in Vermont, USA