Runoff and solute mobilization processes in a semiarid headwater catchment

Justin D. Hughes, Shahbaz Khan, Russell S. Crosbie, Stuart Helliwell, David Michalk

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Runoff and solute transport processes contributing to streamflow were determined in a small headwater catchment in the eastern Murray-Darling Basin of Australia using hydrometric and tracer methods. Streamflow and electrical conductivity were monitored from two gauges draining a portion of the upper catchment area (UCA) and a saline scalded area, respectively. Runoff in the UCA was related to the formation of a seasonally perched aquifer in the near-surface zone (0'0.4 m). A similar process was responsible for runoff generation in the saline scalded area. However, saturation in the scald area was related to the proximity of groundwater rather than low subsurface hydraulic conductivity. Because of higher antecedent water content, runoff commenced earlier in winter from the scald than did the UCA. Additionally, areal runoff from the scald was far greater than from the UCA. Total runoff from the UCAwas higher than the scald (15.7 versus 3.5 mL), but salt export was far lower (0.6 and 5.4 t for the UCA and scald area, respectively) since salinity of the scald runoff was far higher than that from the UCA, indicating the potential impact of saline scalded areas at the catchment scale. End-member mixing analysis modeling using six solutes indicated that most runoff produced from the scald was ''new'' (40'71%) despite the proximity of the groundwater surface and the high antecedent moisture levels. This is a reflection of the very low hydraulic conductivity of soils in the study area. Nearly all chloride exported to the stream from the scald emanated from the near-surface zone (77'87%). Runoff and solute mobilization processes depend upon seasonal saturation occurring in the near-surface zone during periods of low evaporative demand and generation of saturated overland flow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue numberW09402
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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