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116 Isotope Hydrograph Separation of Runoff Sources

Part 10. Rainfall-Runoff Processes

  1. Jim M Buttle

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa120

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Buttle, J. M. 2006. Isotope Hydrograph Separation of Runoff Sources. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 10:116.

Author Information

  1. Trent University, Department of Geography, Peterborough, ON, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


Use of isotopic tracers to characterize water ages, origins, and flow pathways in drainage basins is reviewed, along with the assumptions that underlie isotopic hydrograph separations (IHSs). Points of agreement regarding the use of the IHS approach in small drainage basins are examined, as are some of the key challenges associated with application of the approach in future research. Despite a growing awareness of the limitations of IHS, the method offers a powerful tool to examine a number of critical issues in hydrology, particularly when employed in conjunction with hydrometric techniques and the use of other tracers. These issues include the estimation of water residence times, the identification of process thresholds, the assessment of hydrological response to land use change, and the use of isotopic data to calibrate and test hydrological models.


  • environmental isotopes;
  • isotopic hydrograph separation;
  • streamflow generation;
  • basin scale;
  • water residence time;
  • water flowpaths;
  • land use change;
  • models