Variability of headwater stream network extents controlled by flow regime and network hydraulic scaling

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Dana Ariel Lapides , Christine Denise Leclerc, Hana Moidu, David Nicholas Dralle , W Jesse Hahm


Stream networks expand and contract through time, impacting chemical export, aquatic ecosystem habitat, and water quality. Although recent advances improve prediction of the extent of the wetted channel network (L) based on discharge at the catchment outlet (Q), controls on the temporal variability of L remain poorly understood and unquantified. Here we develop a quantitative, conceptual framework to explore how flow regime and stream network hydraulic scaling factors co-determine the relative temporal variability in L. Network hydraulic scaling determines how much L changes for a change in Q, while the flow regime describes how Q changes in time. We compiled datasets of co-located dynamic stream extent mapping and discharge to analyze all globally available empirical data using the presented framework. We found that although variability in L is universally dampened relative to variability in Q (i.e., streamflow is relatively more variable in time than network extent), the relationship is elastic, meaning that for a given increase in the variability in Q, headwater catchments will experience greater-than-proportional increases in the variability of L. Thus, under anticipated climatic shifts towards more volatile precipitation, relative variability in headwater stream network extents can be expected to increase even more than the relative variability of discharge itself. Comparison between network extents inferred from the L-Q relationship and USGS topographic maps shows widespread underestimation of the wetted channel network by the mapped extent of both perennial and dynamic stream extents.



Earth Sciences, Hydrology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


aquatic ecosystem habitat, flow regime, hydrograph variability, hydrography, intermittent streams, network hydraulic scaling, perennial streams, stream network extent, wetted channels


Published: 2020-08-14 19:12

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Data and code will be available on HydroShare at time of publication.

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