Characterising hillslope–stream connectivity with a joint event analysis of stream and groundwater levels

Daniel Beiter, Markus Weiler, Theresa Blume
2020 Hydrology and Earth System Sciences  
Abstract. Hillslope–stream connectivity controls runoff generation, during events and during baseflow conditions. However, assessing subsurface connectivity is a challenging task, as it occurs in the hidden subsurface domain where water flow can not be easily observed. We therefore investigated if the results of a joint analysis of rainfall event responses of near-stream groundwater levels and stream water levels could serve as a viable proxy for hillslope–stream connectivity. The analysis
more » ... . The analysis focuses on the extent of response, correlations, lag times and synchronicity. As a first step, a new data analysis scheme was developed, separating the aspects of (a) response timing and (b) extent of water level change. This provides new perspectives on the relationship between groundwater and stream responses. In a second step we investigated if this analysis can give an indication of hillslope–stream connectivity at the catchment scale. Stream water levels and groundwater levels were measured at five different hillslopes over 5 to 6 years. Using a new detection algorithm, we extracted 706 rainfall response events for subsequent analysis. Carrying out this analysis in two different geological regions (schist and marls) allowed us to test the usefulness of the proxy under different hydrological settings while also providing insight into the geologically driven differences in response behaviour. For rainfall events with low initial groundwater level, groundwater level responses often lag behind the stream with respect to the start of rise and the time of peak. This lag disappears at high antecedent groundwater levels. At low groundwater levels the relationship between groundwater and stream water level responses to rainfall are highly variable, while at high groundwater levels, above a certain threshold, this relationship tends to become more uniform. The same threshold was able to predict increased likelihood for high runoff coefficients, indicating a strong increase in connectivity once the groundwater level threshold was surpassed. The joint analysis of shallow near-stream groundwater and stream water levels provided information on the presence or absence and to a certain extent also on the degree of subsurface hillslope–stream connectivity. The underlying threshold processes were interpreted as transmissivity feedback in the marls and fill-and-spill in the schist. The value of these measurements is high; however, time series of several years and a large number of events are necessary to produce representative results. We also find that locally measured thresholds in groundwater levels can provide insight into the connectivity and event response of the corresponding headwater catchments. If the location of the well is chosen wisely, a single time series of shallow groundwater can indicate if the catchment is in a state of high or low connectivity.
doi:10.5194/hess-24-5713-2020 fatcat:r2hlueumvjbslllphcdardezsq