The mechanistic basis for storage-dependent age distributions of water discharged from an experimental hillslope

Luke A. Pangle, Minseok Kim, Charlene Cardoso, Marco Lora, Antonio A. Meira Neto, Till H.M. Volkmann, Yadi Wang, Peter A. Troch, Ciaran J. Harman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Distributions of water transit times (TTDs), and related storage-selection (SAS) distributions, are spatially integrated metrics of hydrological transport within landscapes. Recent works confirm that the form of TTDs and SAS distributions should be considered time variant—possibly depending, in predictable ways, on the dynamic storage of water within the landscape. We report on a 28 day periodic-steady-state-tracer experiment performed on a model hillslope contained within a 1 m3 sloping lysimeter. Using experimental data, we calibrate physically based, spatially distributed flow and transport models, and use the calibrated models to generate time-variable SAS distributions, which are subsequently compared to those directly observed from the actual experiment. The objective is to use the spatially distributed estimates of storage and flux from the model to characterize how temporal variation in water storage influences temporal variation in flow path configurations, and resulting SAS distributions. The simulated SAS distributions mimicked well the shape of observed distributions, once the model domain reflected the spatial heterogeneity of the lysimeter soil. The spatially distributed flux vectors illustrate how the magnitude and directionality of water flux changes as the water table surface rises and falls, yielding greater contributions of younger water when the water table surface rises nearer to the soil surface. The illustrated mechanism is compliant with conclusions drawn from other recent studies and supports the notion of an inverse-storage effect, whereby the probability of younger water exiting the system increases with storage. This mechanism may be prevalent in hillslopes and headwater catchments where discharge dynamics are controlled by vertical fluctuations in the water table surface of an unconfined aquifer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2733-2754
Number of pages22
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • hillslope hydrology
  • hydrological transport
  • residence times
  • storage-selection functions
  • tracer hydrology
  • transit times

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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