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Connectivity and runoff dynamics in heterogeneous drainage basins



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A drainage basin’s runoff response can be determined by the connectivity of generated runoff to the stream network and the connectivity of the downstream stream network. The connectivity of a drainage basin modulates its ability to produce streamflow and respond to precipitation events and is a function of the complex and variable storage capacities along the drainage network. An improved means to measure and account for the dynamics of hydrological connectivity at the basin scale is needed to improve prediction of basin scale streamflow. The overall goal of this thesis is to improve the understanding of hydrological connectivity at the basin scale by measuring hydrological connectivity at the Baker Creek Research Basin during 2009. To this end, the objectives are to 1) investigate the dynamics of hydrological connectivity during a typical water year, 2) define the relationship between the contributing stream network and contributing area, 3) investigate how hydrological connectivity influences streamflow, and 4) define how hydrological connectivity influences runoff response to rainfall events. At a 150 km2 subarctic Precambrian Shield catchment where the poorly-drained heterogeneous mosaic of lakes, exposed bedrock, and soil filled areas creates variable contributing areas, hydrological connectivity was measured between April and September 2009 in 10 sub-basins with a particular focus on three representative sub-basins. The three sub-basins, although of similar relative size, vary considerably in the dominant typology and topology of their constituent elements. At a 10 m spatial resolution, saturated areas were mapped using both multispectral satellite imagery and in situ measurements of storage according to land cover. To measure basin scale hydrological connectivity, the drainage network was treated as a graph network with stream reaches being the edges that connect sub-catchment nodes. The overall hydrological connectivity of the stream network was described as the ratio of actively flowing relative to potentially flowing stream reaches, and the hydrological connectivity of the stream network to the outlet was described as the ratio of actively flowing stream reaches that were connected to the outlet relative to the potentially flowing stream reaches. Hydrological connectivity was highest during the spring freshet but the stream network began to disintegrate with its passing. In some drainage basins, large gate keepers were able to maintain connectivity of the stream network downstream during dry periods. The length of the longest stream was found to be proportional to contributing area raised to a power of 0.605, similar to that noted in Hack’s Law and modified Hack’s Law relationships. The length of the contributing stream network was also found to be proportional to contributing area raised to a power of 0.851. In general, higher daily average streamflows were noted for higher states of connectivity to the outlet although preliminary investigations allude to the existence of hysteresis in these relationships. Elevated levels of hydrological connectivity were also found to yield higher basin runoff ratios but the shape of the characteristic curve for each basin was heavily influenced by key traits of its land cover heterogeneity. The implications of these findings are that accurate prediction of streamflow and runoff response in a heterogeneous drainage basin with dynamic connectivity will require both an account of the presence or absence of connections but also a differentiation of connection type and an incorporation of aspects of local function that control the flow through connections themselves. The improved understanding of causal factors for the variable streamflow response to runoff generation in this environment will serve as a first step towards developing improved streamflow prediction methods in formerly glaciated landscapes, especially in small ungauged basins.



drainage network, runoff, heterogeneity, variable contributing area, hydrological connectivity, Canadian Shield, lakes



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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