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Impacts of upland open drains upon runoff generation: a numerical assessment of catchment-scale impacts


Correspondence to: Stuart N. Lane, Faculté des géosciences et de l'environnement, Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, CH-1015, Switzerland.



Shallow upland drains, grips, have been hypothesized as responsible for increased downstream flow magnitudes. Observations provide counterfactual evidence, often relating to the difficulty of inferring conclusions from statistical correlation and paired catchment comparisons, and the complexity of designing field experiments to test grip impacts at the catchment scale. Drainage should provide drier antecedent moisture conditions, providing more storage at the start of an event; however, grips have higher flow velocities than overland flow, thus potentially delivering flow more rapidly to the drainage network. We develop and apply a model for assessing the impacts of grips on flow hydrographs. The model was calibrated on the gripped case, and then the gripped case was compared with the intact case by removing all grips. This comparison showed that even given parameter uncertainty, the intact case had significantly higher flood peaks and lower baseflows, mirroring field observations of the hydrological response of intact peat. The simulations suggest that this is because delivery effects may not translate into catchment-scale impacts for three reasons. First, in our case, the proportions of flow path lengths that were hillslope were not changed significantly by gripping. Second, the structure of the grip network as compared with the structure of the drainage basin mitigated against grip-related increases in the concentration of runoff in the drainage network, although it did marginally reduce the mean timing of that concentration at the catchment outlet. Third, the effect of the latter upon downstream flow magnitudes can only be assessed by reference to the peak timing of other tributary basins, emphasizing that drain effects are both relative and scale dependent. However, given the importance of hillslope flow paths, we show that if upland drainage causes significant changes in surface roughness on hillslopes, then critical and important feedbacks may impact upon the speed of hydrological response. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.