Exploring the Signal Filtering Properties of Idealized Watersheds Using Spectral Analysis

Abram Farley, Laura E. Condon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Watersheds act as low-pass filters, damping and attenuating climatic signals as water moves through the surface and subsurface. This is a well observed phenomenon; however, the ways in which watershed properties control the nature of this filtering are less well documented, especially with respect to groundwater surface water interactions. Here, we use a physically based groundwater surface water model to simulate idealized hillslope ensembles with varying watershed properties (hillslope slope, hydraulic conductivity, and precipitation magnitude) to quantitively explore the impact of watershed configuration on temporal filtering in both the surface and subsurface. To limit the complexities of this system an idealized titled-v domain is used. Multi-decadal simulations (95 years) are run, and then power spectral densities and transfer functions are used to quantify the temporal dynamics and damping of each simulation. Overall, we show that the degree of filtering and the degree of signal transformation is controlled by the total time spent in the subsurface and the degree of groundwater surface water exchanges. The ratio of precipitation to hydraulic conductivity controls the partitioning between infiltration and runoff. Greater infiltration results in less filtering in the subsurface and more filtering in streamflow. For a given precipitation conductivity ratio, deeper water table depths lead to greater streamflow filtering for periods less than 5 years. For time periods greater than 5 years the streamflow filtering is most strongly related to hydraulic conductivity which controls the baseflow dynamics. The majority of the input signal is filtered in the subsurface for short periods less than one year. For longer time scales, hydraulic conductivity is found to be the primary control of filtering and power shift taking place in the subsurface with larger conductivities correlated to less filtering and less of a signal transformation. Deeper water table depths lead to more signal transformation in saturated storage but are not correlated to filtering in unsaturated storage. This is likely due to counteracting effects of higher conductivity (which decreases filtering) and deeper water table depths (which increase filtering).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104441
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
StatePublished - Aug 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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