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Keywords:

  • tile drain;
  • streamflow distribution;
  • human impact;
  • agriculture;
  • baseflow

Abstract

Anthropogenic modifications to the landscape, with agricultural activities being a primary driver, have resulted in significant alterations to the hydrologic cycle. Artificial drainage, including surface and subsurface drainage (tile drains), is one of the most extensive manipulations in agricultural landscapes and thus is expected to provide a distinct signature of anthropogenic modification. This study adopts a data synthesis approach in an effort to characterize the signature of artificial subsurface drainage. Daily discharge data from 24 basins across the state of Iowa, which encapsulate a range of anthropogenic modifications, are assessed using a variety of flow metrics. Results indicate that the presence of artificial subsurface drainage leads to a homogenization of landscape hydrologic response. Non-tiled watersheds exhibit a decrease in the area-normalized peak discharge and an increase in the baseflow ratio (baseflow/streamflow) with increases in the spatial scale, while scale invariance is apparent in tiled basins. Within-basin variability in hydrograph recession coefficients also appears to decrease with increases in the proportion of the catchment that is artificially drained. Finally, the differences between tiled and non-tiled landscapes disappear at scales greater than approximately 2200 km2, indicating that this may be a threshold scale for studying the effects of tile drainage. This decrease in within-basin variability and the scale invariance of hydrologic metrics in artificially drained watersheds are attributed to the creation of a bypass flow hydrologic pathway that bypasses the complexity of the catchment travel paths. Spatial homogeneity in responses implies that it may be possible to develop more parsimonious hydrologic models for these regions. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.