We undertook the task of determining whether base flow alkalinity of surface waters in the northeastern United States is related to indices of soil contact time and flow path partitioning that are derived from topographic and soils information. The influence of topography and soils on catchment hydrology has been incorporated previously in the variable source area model TOPMODEL as the relative frequency distribution of ln (a/Kb tan B), where ln is the Naperian logarithm, “a” is the area drained per unit contour, K is the saturated hydraulic conductivity, b is the soil depth, and tan B is the slope. Using digital elevation and soil survey data, we calculated the ln (a/Kb tan B) distribution for 145 catchments. Indices of flow path partitioning and soil contact time were derived from the ln (a/Kb tan B) distributions and compared to measurements of alkalinity in lakes to which the catchments drain. We found that alkalinity was, in general, positively correlated with the index of soil contact time, whereas the correlation between alkalinity and the flow path partitioning index was weak at best. A portion of the correlation between the soil contact time index and alkalinity was attributable to covariation with soil base saturation and cation exchange capacity, while another portion was found to be independent of these factors. Although our results indicate that catchments with long soil contact time indices are most likely to produce high alkalinity base flow, a sensitivity analysis of TOPMODEL suggests that surface waters of these same watersheds may be susceptible to alkalinity depressions during storm events, due to the role of flow paths.
Water Resources Research – Wiley
Published: May 1, 1989
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