An analysis of the effects of spatial variability of soil and soil moisture on runoff


  • Bruno Merz,

  • Erich J. Plate


Hydrological variables and processes usually exhibit a large spatial variability. Often this variability includes aspects of organization and randomness. Because any hydrological modeling has to deal with the question of spatial variability, methods that quantify the effects of spatial variability are valuable. Moreover, it is important to identify the situations where the spatial variability can be reduced (e.g., by using an “effective” value). For a small and well-instrumented catchment in a loess area in southwest Germany effects of spatial variability of the initial soil moisture and soil hydraulic properties on the runoff are investigated. The analysis is performed with a process-oriented rainfall runoff model. It is shown that organization in spatial patterns of soil moisture and soil properties may have a dominant influence on the catchment runoff. The simulations suggest that spatial variability can result in a complex, event dependent, behavior. It cannot be expected that a model with inputs based on mean parameters or mean initial conditions leads to mean outputs for heterogeneous fields. The analysis of different events shows the changing influence of spatial variability on the runoff with changing storm size. For very small and for large events spatial variability plays a negligible role. A large influence is found for medium-sized events.