Threshold relations in subsurface stormflow: 2. The fill and spill hypothesis



[1] Analysis of subsurface stormflow from 147 storms at the 20 m long trench in the Panola Mountain Research Watershed by Tromp-van Meerveld and McDonnell (2006a) showed that there was a distinct 55 mm precipitation threshold for significant subsurface stormflow production. This second paper in the series investigates the processes responsible for this threshold response. We installed a dense spatial array of maximum rise crest stage gauges and recording wells on the hillslope and studied the temporal and spatial patterns of transient saturation at the soil-bedrock interface and its relation to subsurface stormflow measured at the trench face. Results show that while transient groundwater developed on parts of the hillslope during events smaller than 55 mm, it was not until more than 55 mm of rain fell before bedrock depressions on the hillslope were filled, water spilled over microtopographic relief in the bedrock surface, and the subsurface saturated areas became connected to the trench. When connectivity was achieved, the instantaneous subsurface stormflow rate increased more than fivefold compared to before the subsurface saturated areas were connected to the trench face. Total subsurface stormflow was more than 75 times larger when connectivity was achieved compared to when connectivity was not achieved. The fill and spill hypothesis presented in this paper is a process explanation for the observed threshold behavior of Tromp-van Meerveld and McDonnell (2006a), thereby linking patterns and processes.