The value of experimental data and modelling for exploration of hydrological functioning: The case of a till hillslope

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Successfully modeling one system response (e.g. hydrograph or solute transport) sometimes gives the false sense of well-characterizing the modeled system. This is partly because of the well-known equifinality issue; during the calibration process multiple parameter combinations can produce similarly good results. One step forward towards a better-defined system is using measured (at relevant scale) values for the model parameters, as well as using multiple conditions to constrain the model.But when not enough, or relevant, field measurements are available, virtual experiments (VE’s) can be used as a supplementary method to model calibration. The advantage of VE’s over model calibration is that they can also be used to explore assumptions both on the system hydrological processes, and on the model structure.One goal of this study was to utilize both field measurements and models for better characterization of the S-transect hillslope, located in Västrabäcken catchment, Northern Sweden. This included (a) characteristics in space: system vertical boundaries, hydraulic parameters, pore water velocity distribution, spatial correlation of flowpaths, soil water retention properties; (b) characteristic of system’s dynamic behavior: storage – discharge relationship, transit time distribution, turnover time; and (c) outputs’ sensitivity to external forcing, and to small scale structure assumptions. The second goal was to comment on the value of field measurements and virtual experiments for extracting information about the studied system.An intensely monitored study hillslope was chosen for this work. Although the hillslope has already been the subject of multiple field and modelling studies, there are still open questions regarding the characteristics listed above. The models used were the Vertical Equilibrium Model (VEM), and the Multiple Interacting Pathways (MIPs) model.It was found that the hillslope was well connected; from the near-stream areas up to the water divide the storage – discharge relationship could be described as an exponential function. Also, the dynamic storage (which controls the hydrograph dynamics) was much smaller comparing to the total hillslope storage. The unsaturated soil storage was found to be more sensitive to water table positions than vertical flux magnitude. The dynamic condition of external forcing (precipitation and evapotranspiration) affected the transit time distribution (TTD) shape. And, opposite to expectations, TTD was not sensitive to micro-scale structural assumptions tested here.