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Precipitation characteristics and land cover control wet season runoff source and rainfall partitioning in three humid tropical catchments in central Panama

January 21, 2021

Mechanisms of runoff generation in the humid tropics are poorly understood, particularly in the context of land-use/land cover change. This study analyzed the results of 124 storm hydrographs from three humid tropical catchments of markedly different vegetation cover and land-use history in central Panama during the 2017 wet season: actively grazed pasture, young secondary succession, and near-mature forest. We used electrical conductivity to separate baseflow (old water) from storm-event water (new-water). In all three land covers, new-water dominated storm runoff generation in 44% of the sampled storm events, indicating the dominance of fast shallow flow paths in the landscape. Activation of these flow paths was found to depend on a combination of maximum rainfall intensity and total storm rainfall, which, in turn, relates to markedly contrasting hydrograph separation results among land covers. Relationships between these rainfall characteristics and storm runoff generation were nonlinear, producing a threshold response with the exceedance of specific rainfall volumes and/or intensities. The pastoral catchment delivered order of magnitude more new-water during storm events than the two forested catchments. Although new-water contributed minimally (<10%) to total wet season runoff in the forested catchments, 43% of runoff generation in the pasture came from five large rainfall events where a threshold response produced substantial increases in total runoff and new-runoff efficiency. Based on our results, we propose a conceptual model of hydrologic flow paths in humid tropical systems that can explain previously observed disparities in seasonal storage and runoff with respect to land use/land cover.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Precipitation characteristics and land cover control wet season runoff source and rainfall partitioning in three humid tropical catchments in central Panama
DOI 10.1029/2020WR028058
Authors Andrew L. Birch, Robert Stallard, Holly R. Barnard
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Series Number
Index ID 70224333
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division

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