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Keywords:

  • hydrology;
  • surface runoff;
  • infiltration;
  • spatial and temporal variability;
  • hydrologic connectivity;
  • phosphorus

Abstract

This study delineated spatially and temporally variable runoff generation areas in the Sand Mountain region pasture of North Alabama under natural rainfall conditions, and demonstrated that hydrologic connectivity is important for generating hillslope response when infiltration-excess (IE) runoff mechanism dominates. Data from six rainfall events (13·7–32·3 mm) on an intensively instrumented pasture hillslope (0·12 ha) were analysed. Analysis of data from surface runoff sensors, tipping bucket rain gauge and HS-flume demonstrated spatial and temporal variability in runoff generation areas. Results showed that the maximum runoff generation area, which contributed to runoff at the outlet of the hillslope, varied between 67 and 100%. Furthermore, because IE was the main runoff generation mechanism on the hillslope, the data showed that as the rainfall intensity changed during a rainfall event, the runoff generation areas expanded or contracted. During rainfall events with high-intensity short- to medium-duration, 4–8% of total rainfall was converted to runoff at the outlet. Rainfall events with medium- to low-intensity, medium-duration were found less likely to generate runoff at the outlet. In situ soil hydraulic conductivity (k) was measured across the hillslope, which confirmed its effect on hydrologic connectivity of runoff generation areas. Combined surface runoff sensor and k-interpolated data clearly showed that during a rainfall event, lower k areas generate runoff first, and then, depending on rainfall intensity, runoff at the outlet is generated by hydrologically connected areas. It was concluded that in IE-runoff-dominated areas, rainfall intensity and k can explain hydrologic response. The study demonstrated that only connected areas of low k values generate surface runoff during high-intensity rainfall events. Identification of these areas would serve as an important foundation for controlling nonpoint source pollutant transport, especially phosphorus. The best management practices can be developed and implemented to reduce transport of phosphorus from these hydrologically connected areas. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.