Our understanding of runoff generation in regions characterized by deep, highly weathered soils is incomplete, despite the prevalence occupation of these landscapes worldwide. To address this, we instrumented a first-order watershed in the Piedmont of South Carolina, USA, a region that extends east of the Appalachians from Maryland to Alabama, and home to some of the most rapid population growth in the country. Although regionally the relief is modest, the landscape is often highly dissected and local slopes can be steep and highly varied. The typical soils of the region are kaolinite dominated ultisols, with hydrologic properties controlled by argillic Bt horizons, often with >50% clay-size fraction. The humid subtropical climate creates relatively consistent precipitation intra-annually and seasonally variable energy availability. Consequently, the mixed deciduous and coniferous tree cover creates a strong evapotranspiration-mediated hydrologic dynamic. While moist soils and extended stream networks are typical from late fall through spring, relatively dry soils and contracting stream networks emerge in the summer and early fall. Here, we seek to elucidate the relative influence of the vertical soil and spatial terrain structure of this region on watershed hillslope hydrology and subsequent runoff generation. We installed a network of nested, shallow groundwater wells and soil water content probes within an ephemeral to first-order watershed to continuously measure soil and groundwater dynamics across soil horizons and landscape position. We also recorded local precipitation and discharge from this watershed. Most landscape positions exhibited minimal water table response to precipitation throughout dry summer periods, with infrequently observed responses rarely coincident with streamflow generation. In contrast, during the wetter late fall through early spring period, streamflow was driven by the interaction between transient perched water tables and topographically mediated redistribution of shallow groundwater downslope. Our findings suggest that understanding streamflow generation in regions possessing both complex terrain and complex vertical soil structure requires synchronous characterization of terrain mediated water redistribution and subsurface soil hydrology.
Mallard, John McDevitt, Brian L McGlynn, Daniel deB. Richter (2017): Terrain and subsurface influences on runoff generation in a steep, deep, highly weathered system. American Geophysical Union 2017 Fall Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, 11-15 December 2017.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.