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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 17, issue 10 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 3895-3911, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 11 Oct 2013

Research article | 11 Oct 2013

Propagation of soil moisture memory to streamflow and evapotranspiration in Europe

R. Orth and S. I. Seneviratne R. Orth and S. I. Seneviratne
  • Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Universitätstrasse 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. As a key variable of the land-climate system soil moisture is a main driver of streamflow and evapotranspiration under certain conditions. Soil moisture furthermore exhibits outstanding memory (persistence) characteristics. Many studies also report distinct low frequency variations for streamflow, which are likely related to soil moisture memory. Using data from over 100 near-natural catchments located across Europe, we investigate in this study the connection between soil moisture memory and the respective memory of streamflow and evapotranspiration on different time scales. For this purpose we use a simple water balance model in which dependencies of runoff (normalised by precipitation) and evapotranspiration (normalised by radiation) on soil moisture are fitted using streamflow observations. The model therefore allows us to compute the memory characteristics of soil moisture, streamflow and evapotranspiration on the catchment scale. We find considerable memory in soil moisture and streamflow in many parts of the continent, and evapotranspiration also displays some memory at monthly time scale in some catchments. We show that the memory of streamflow and evapotranspiration jointly depend on soil moisture memory and on the strength of the coupling of streamflow and evapotranspiration to soil moisture. Furthermore, we find that the coupling strengths of streamflow and evapotranspiration to soil moisture depend on the shape of the fitted dependencies and on the variance of the meteorological forcing. To better interpret the magnitude of the respective memories across Europe, we finally provide a new perspective on hydrological memory by relating it to the mean duration required to recover from anomalies exceeding a certain threshold.

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