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The roles of channels and hillslopes in rainfall/run‐off lag times during intense storms in a steep catchment

Asano, Yuko, Uchida, Taro
Hydrological processes 2018 v.32 no.6 pp. 713-728
prediction, rain, runoff, storms, streams, topographic slope, watersheds
The response time (lag time) between rainfall input and run‐off output in headwater catchments is a key parameter for flood prediction. Lag times are expected to be controlled by run‐off processes, both on hillslopes and in channels. To demonstrate these effects on peak lag times within a 4.5‐km² catchment, we measured stream water levels at up to 16 channel locations at 1‐min intervals and compared the lag times with topographic indices describing the length and gradient of the hillslope and channel flow path. We captured storm events with a total precipitation of 38–198 mm and maximum hourly precipitation intensity of 9–90 mm/hr. There were positive relationships between lag time and flow path length as well as the ratio of the flow path length and the square root of the gradient of channels for the most intense storms, demonstrating that channel flow paths generally defined the variation in lag times. Topographic analysis showed that hillslope flow path lengths were similar among locations, whereas channel flow path length increased almost one order of magnitude with a 100‐fold increase in catchment area. Thus, the relative importance of hillslope flow path decreased with increasing catchment area. Our results indicate that the variation in lag times is small when hillslopes are sufficiently wet; thus, catchment‐scale variation in lag times can be explained almost entirely by channel processes. Detailed topographic channel information can improve prediction of flood peak timing, whereas hillslopes can be treated as homogeneous during large flood events.