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Stormflow-hydrograph separation based on isotopes: the thrill is gone--what's next?

January 1, 2002
Beginning in the 1970s, the promise of a new method for separating
stormflow hydrographs using
H, and
temptation, and was a vast improvement over graphical separation
and solute tracer methods that were prevalent at the time. Eventu-
ally, hydrologists realized that this new method entailed a plethora
of assumptions about temporal and spatial homogeneity of isotopic
composition (many of which were commonly violated). Nevertheless,
hydrologists forged ahead with dozens of isotope-based hydrograph-
separation studies that were published in the 1970s and 1980s.
Hortonian overland flow was presumed dead. By the late 1980s,
the new isotope-based hydrograph separation technique had moved
into adolescence, accompanied by typical adolescent problems such
as confusion and a search for identity. As experienced hydrologists
continued to use the isotope technique to study stormflow hydrol-
ogy in forested catchments in humid climates, their younger peers
followed obligingly—again and again. Was Hortonian overland flow
really dead and forgotten, though? What about catchments in which
people live and work? And what about catchments in dry climates
and the tropics? How useful were study results when several of the
assumptions about the homogeneity of source waters were commonly
violated? What if two components could not explain the variation of
isotopic composition measured in the stream during stormflow? And
what about uncertainty? As with many new tools, once the initial
shine wore off, the limitations of the method became a concern—one
of which was that isotope-based hydrograph separations alone could
not reveal much about the flow paths by which water arrives at a
stream channel during storms.
Publication Year 2002
Title Stormflow-hydrograph separation based on isotopes: the thrill is gone--what's next?
DOI 10.1002/hyp.5008
Authors Douglas A. Burns
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Hydrological Processes
Index ID 70074371
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center