A Generalized Subsurface Flow Parameterization Considering Subgrid Spatial Variability of Recharge and Topography

Maoyi Huang Department of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, and Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, California

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Xu Liang Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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L. Ruby Leung Atmospheric Science and Global Change Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington

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Abstract

Subsurface flow is an important hydrologic process and a key component of the water budget. Through its direct impacts on soil moisture, it can affect water and energy fluxes at the land surface and influence the regional climate and water cycle. In this study, a new subsurface flow formulation is developed that incorporates the spatial variability of both topography and recharge. It is shown through theoretical derivation and case studies that the power-law and exponential subsurface flow parameterizations and the parameterization proposed by Woods et al. are all special cases of the new formulation. The subsurface flows calculated using the new formulation compare well with values derived from observations at Tulpehocken Creek, Pennsylvania, and Walnut Creek, Iowa. Sensitivity studies show that when the spatial variability of topography or recharge, or both is increased, the subsurface flows increase at the two aforementioned sites and at the Maimai hillslope, New Zealand. This is likely due to enhancement of interactions between the groundwater table and the land surface that reduce the flow path. An important conclusion of this study is that the spatial variability of recharge alone, and/or in combination with the spatial variability of topography can substantially alter the behaviors of subsurface flows. This suggests that in macroscale hydrologic models or land surface models, subgrid variations of recharge and topography can make significant contributions to the grid mean subsurface flow and must be accounted for in regions with large surface heterogeneity. This is particularly true for regions with humid climate and a relatively shallow groundwater table where the combined impacts of spatial variability of recharge and topography are shown to be more important. For regions with an arid climate and a relatively deep groundwater table, simpler formulations, for example, the power law, for subsurface flow can work well, and the impacts of subgrid variations of recharge and topography may be ignored.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Xu Liang, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Email: xuliang@pitt.edu

Abstract

Subsurface flow is an important hydrologic process and a key component of the water budget. Through its direct impacts on soil moisture, it can affect water and energy fluxes at the land surface and influence the regional climate and water cycle. In this study, a new subsurface flow formulation is developed that incorporates the spatial variability of both topography and recharge. It is shown through theoretical derivation and case studies that the power-law and exponential subsurface flow parameterizations and the parameterization proposed by Woods et al. are all special cases of the new formulation. The subsurface flows calculated using the new formulation compare well with values derived from observations at Tulpehocken Creek, Pennsylvania, and Walnut Creek, Iowa. Sensitivity studies show that when the spatial variability of topography or recharge, or both is increased, the subsurface flows increase at the two aforementioned sites and at the Maimai hillslope, New Zealand. This is likely due to enhancement of interactions between the groundwater table and the land surface that reduce the flow path. An important conclusion of this study is that the spatial variability of recharge alone, and/or in combination with the spatial variability of topography can substantially alter the behaviors of subsurface flows. This suggests that in macroscale hydrologic models or land surface models, subgrid variations of recharge and topography can make significant contributions to the grid mean subsurface flow and must be accounted for in regions with large surface heterogeneity. This is particularly true for regions with humid climate and a relatively shallow groundwater table where the combined impacts of spatial variability of recharge and topography are shown to be more important. For regions with an arid climate and a relatively deep groundwater table, simpler formulations, for example, the power law, for subsurface flow can work well, and the impacts of subgrid variations of recharge and topography may be ignored.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Xu Liang, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Email: xuliang@pitt.edu

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