Storm Runoff Generation in Humid Headwater Catchments: 1. Where Does the Water Come From?


  • A. J. Pearce,

  • M. K. Stewart,

  • M. G. Sklash


Production of storm runoff in highly responsive catchments is not well understood. We report in these papers a comprehensive set of hydrometric and natural tracer data for rainfall, soil water, and streamflow for catchments in the Tawhai State Forest, Westland, New Zealand, which reveal some of the important runoff processes. The catchments are small (< 4 ha), with short (< 300 m) steep (average 34°) slopes and thin (< 1 m) permeable soils. Long-term (1977–1980) weekly observations of oxygen 18, electrical conductivity, and chloride in the stream, groundwater, and rain in the main study catchment indicate that catchment outflow reflects a well-mixed reservoir with a mean residence time of approximately 4 months. A preliminary storm hydrograph separation using oxygen 18 (for a storm hydrograph exceeded by only 22% of events since 1979) indicates that only 3% of storm runoff could be considered “new” (i.e., current storm) water. Rapid subsurface flow, such as macropore flow, of new water therefore cannot explain streamflow response in the study area. More detailed hydrograph separation studies on throughflow as well as streamflow are described in parts 2 (M. G. Sklash et. al., this issue) and 3 (M. G. Sklash et. al., unpublished manuscript, 1986).