Regional variation of flow duration curves in the eastern United States: Process-based analyses of the interaction between climate and landscape properties
This paper advances the physical understanding of the flow duration curve (FDC) regional variation. It provides a process-based analysis of the interaction between climate and landscape properties to explain disparities in FDC shapes. We used (i) long term measured flow and precipitation data over 73 catchments from the eastern US. (ii) We calibrated the Sacramento model (SAC-SMA) to simulate soil moisture and flow components FDCs. The catchments classification based on storm characteristics pointed to the effect of catchments landscape properties on the precipitation variability and consequently on the FDC shapes. The landscape properties effect was pronounce such that low value of the slope of FDC (SFDC)—hinting at limited flow variability—were present in regions of high precipitation variability. Whereas, in regions with low precipitation variability the SFDCs were of larger values. The topographic index distribution, at the catchment scale, indicated that saturation excess overland flow mitigated the flow variability under conditions of low elevations with large soil moisture storage capacity and high infiltration rates. The SFDCs increased due to the predominant subsurface stormflow in catchments at high elevations with limited soil moisture storage capacity and low infiltration rates. Our analyses also highlighted the major role of soil infiltration rates on the FDC despite the impact of the predominant runoff generation mechanism and catchment elevation. In conditions of slow infiltration rates in soils of large moisture storage capacity (at low elevations) and predominant saturation excess, the SFDCs were of larger values. On the other hand, the SFDCs decreased in catchments of prevalent subsurface stormflow and poorly drained soils of small soil moisture storage capacity. The analysis of the flow components FDCs demonstrated that the interflow contribution to the response was the higher in catchments with large value of slope of the FDC. The surface flow FDC was the most affected by the precipitation as it tracked the precipitation duration curve (PDC). In catchments with low SFDCs, this became less applicable as surface flow FDC diverged from PDC at the upper tail (> 40% of the flow percentile). The interflow and baseflow FDCs illustrated most the filtering effect on the precipitation. The process understanding we achieved in this study is key for flow simulation and assessment in addition to future works focusing on process-based FDC predictions.