Is ‘Centre of Volume’ a robust indicator of changes in snowmelt timing?


  • Paul H. Whitfield

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
    2. Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
    • Meteorological Service of Canada, Environment Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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Correspondence to: Paul Whitfield, Meteorological Service of Canada, Environment Canada, Vancouver, BC, V6C 3S5, Canada.



The centre of volume (COV), or the hydrograph centroid, is a measure of streamflow timing that is a widely used indicator of the effects of warmer temperatures on the hydrology of snowmelt streams. The COV was originally developed as a measure of land-use effects, and its response is affected by several factors other than temperature, particularly total run-off. A ‘toy’ model is used to demonstrate some of these effects, and these effects are also shown for streamflow data from Canada's Reference Hydrologic Basin Network. These deficiencies indicate that COV is neither specific nor robust as an indicator. Although these effects might be overcome by streamflow decomposition, the use of COV as an indicator of snowmelt timing should be avoided. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.