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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 19, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-105-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 105–123, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-19-105-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 07 Jan 2015

Research article | 07 Jan 2015

Hydrological hysteresis and its value for assessing process consistency in catchment conceptual models

O. Fovet1,2, L. Ruiz1,2, M. Hrachowitz3, M. Faucheux1,2, and C. Gascuel-Odoux1,2 O. Fovet et al.
  • 1INRA, UMR1069 SAS, 65 route de Saint Brieuc, 35042 Rennes, France
  • 2Agrocampus Ouest, UMR1069 SAS, 65 route de Saint Brieuc, 35042 Rennes, France
  • 3Delft University of Technology, Water Resources Section, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Applied Geosciences, Stevinweg 1, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands

Abstract. While most hydrological models reproduce the general flow dynamics, they frequently fail to adequately mimic system-internal processes. In particular, the relationship between storage and discharge, which often follows annual hysteretic patterns in shallow hard-rock aquifers, is rarely considered in modelling studies. One main reason is that catchment storage is difficult to measure, and another one is that objective functions are usually based on individual variables time series (e.g. the discharge). This reduces the ability of classical procedures to assess the relevance of the conceptual hypotheses associated with models.

We analysed the annual hysteric patterns observed between stream flow and water storage both in the saturated and unsaturated zones of the hillslope and the riparian zone of a headwater catchment in French Brittany (Environmental Research Observatory ERO AgrHys (ORE AgrHys)). The saturated-zone storage was estimated using distributed shallow groundwater levels and the unsaturated-zone storage using several moisture profiles. All hysteretic loops were characterized by a hysteresis index. Four conceptual models, previously calibrated and evaluated for the same catchment, were assessed with respect to their ability to reproduce the hysteretic patterns.

The observed relationship between stream flow and saturated, and unsaturated storages led us to identify four hydrological periods and emphasized a clearly distinct behaviour between riparian and hillslope groundwaters. Although all the tested models were able to produce an annual hysteresis loop between discharge and both saturated and unsaturated storage, the integration of a riparian component led to overall improved hysteretic signatures, even if some misrepresentation remained. Such a system-like approach is likely to improve model selection.

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We studied the annual hysteretic patterns observed between stream flow and water storage in the saturated and unsaturated zones of a hillslope and a riparian zone. We described these signatures using a hysteresis index and then used this to assess conceptual hydrological models. This led us to identify four hydrological periods and a clearly distinct behaviour between riparian and hillslope groundwaters and to provide new information about the model performances.
We studied the annual hysteretic patterns observed between stream flow and water storage in the...
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