Monday paper: Statistical analysis and modelling of surface runoff from arable fields in central Europe


Fiener, P., Auerswald, K., Winter, F., Disse, M. 2013. Statistical analysis and modelling of surface runoff from arable fields in central Europe. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 17, 4121-4132. DOI: 10.5194/hess-17-4121-2013

Abstract

Surface runoff generation on arable fields is an important driver of flooding, on-site and off-site damages by erosion, and of nutrient and agrochemical transport. In general, three different processes generate surface runoff (Hortonian runoff, saturation excess runoff, and return of subsurface flow). Despite the developments in our understanding of these processes it remains difficult to predict which processes govern runoff generation during the course of an event or throughout the year, when soil and vegetation on arable land are passing many states. We analysed the results from 317 rainfall simulations on 209 soils from different landscapes with a resolution of 14 286 runoff measurements to determine temporal and spatial differences in variables governing surface runoff, and to derive and test a statistical model of surface runoff generation independent from an a priori selection of modelled process types. Measured runoff was related to 20 time-invariant soil properties, three variable soil properties, four rain properties, three land use properties and many derived variables describing interactions and curvilinear behaviour. In an iterative multiple regression procedure, six of these properties/variables best described initial abstraction and the hydrograph. To estimate initial abstraction, the percentages of stone cover above 10% and of sand content in the bulk soil were needed, while the hydrograph could be predicted best from rain depth exceeding initial abstraction, rainfall intensity, soil organic carbon content, and time since last tillage. Combining the multiple regressions to estimate initial abstraction and surface runoff allowed modelling of event-specific hydrographs without an a priori assumption of the underlying process. The statistical model described the measured data well and performed equally well during validation. In both cases, the model explained 71 and 58% of variability in accumulated runoff volume and instantaneous runoff rate (RSME: 5.2 mm and 0.23 mm min−1, respectively), while RMSE of runoff volume predicted by the curve number model was 50% higher (7.7 mm). Stone cover, if it exceeded 10%, was most important for the initial abstraction, while time since tillage was most important for the hydrograph. Time since tillage is not taken into account either in typical lumped hydrological models (e.g. SCS curve number approach) or in more mechanistic models using Horton, Green and Ampt, or Philip type approaches to address infiltration although tillage affects many physical and biological soil properties that subsequently and gradually change again. This finding should foster a discussion regarding our ability to predict surface runoff from arable land, which seemed to be dominated by agricultural operations that introduce man-made seasonality in soil hydraulic properties.

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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS) is an international two-stage open access journal for the publication of original research in hydrology, placed within a holistic Earth System Science context. The discussion and peer-review of submitted papers are handled in the open access discussion journal HESSD. Final papers, upon acceptance, appear in HESS (see Review Process under the heading Review).

HESS encourages and supports fundamental and applied research that seeks to understand the interactions between water, earth, ecosystems and man. A multi-disciplinary approach is encouraged that enables a broadening of the hydrologic perspective and the advancement of hydrologic science through the integration with other cognate sciences, and the cross-fertilization across disciplinary boundaries. HESS, therefore, has the ambition to serve not only the community of hydrologists, but all earth and life scientists, water engineers and water managers, who wish to publish original findings on the interactions between hydrological processes and other physical, chemical, biological and societal processes within the earth system, and the utilization of this holistic understanding towards sustainable management of water resources, water quality and water-related natural hazards.

The scope of HESS therefore encompasses:

  1. The role of physical, chemical and biological processes in the cycling of continental water in all its phases, including dissolved and particulate matter, at all scales, from the micro-scale processes of soil water to the global-scale processes underpinning hydro-climatology.
  2. The study of the spatial and temporal characteristics of the global water resources (solid, liquid and vapour) and related budgets, in all compartments of the Earth System (atmosphere, oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes and land masses), including water stocks, residence times, interfacial fluxes, and the pathways between various compartments.
  3. The study of the interactions with human activity of all the processes, budgets, fluxes and pathways as outlined above, and the options for influencing them in a sustainable manner, particularly in relation to floods, droughts, desertification, land degradation, eutrophication, and other aspects of global change.

The journal will publish research articles, research and technical notes, opinion papers, book reviews, brief communications, and comments on papers published previously in HESS. Papers can address different techniques and approaches, including: theory, modelling, experiments or instrumentation. The journal covers the following Subject Areas and Techniques/Approaches, which are used to categorise papers:

Subject Areas:

  • Hillslope Hydrology;
  • Catchment Hydrology;
  • Global Hydrology;
  • Rivers and Lakes;
  • Coasts and Estuaries;
  • Hydrometeorology;
  • Vadose Zone Hydrology;
  • Groundwater Hydrology;
  • Ecohydrology;
  • Biogeochemical Processes;
  • Urban Hydrology;
  • Engineering Hydrology;
  • Water Resources Management.

Techniques and Approaches:

  • Theory Development;
  • Modelling Approaches;
  • Instruments and Observation Techniques;
  • Remote Sensing and GIS;
  • Mathematical Applications;
  • Stochastic Approaches;
  • Uncertainty Analysis.

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