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A Power Function Method for Estimating Base Flow


  • [Correction added December 21, 2012: Phone numbers for authors have been updated]

Corresponding author: Geology Department, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620; 813-974-2236; fax: (813) 974-2654;


Analytical base flow separation techniques are often used to determine the base flow contribution to total stream flow. Most analytical methods derive base flow from discharge records alone without using basin-specific variables other than basin area. This paper derives a power function for estimating base flow, the form being aQb + cQ, an analytical method calibrated against an integrated basin variable, specific conductance, relating base flow to total discharge, and is consistent with observed mathematical behavior of dissolved solids in stream flow with varying discharge. Advantages of the method are being uncomplicated, reproducible, and applicable to hydrograph separation in basins with limited specific conductance data. The power function relationship between base flow and discharge holds over a wide range of basin areas. It better replicates base flow determined by mass balance methods than analytical methods such as filters or smoothing routines that are not calibrated to natural tracers or empirical basin and gauge-specific variables. Also, it can be used with discharge during periods without specific conductance values, including separating base flow from quick flow for single events. However, it may overestimate base flow during very high flow events. Application of geochemical mass balance and power function base flow separation methods to stream flow and specific conductance records from multiple gauges in the same basin suggests that analytical base flow separation methods must be calibrated at each gauge. Using average values of coefficients introduces a potentially significant and unknown error in base flow as compared with mass balance methods.