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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 20, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 279–297, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-20-279-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 20, 279–297, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-20-279-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 19 Jan 2016

Research article | 19 Jan 2016

Aggregation in environmental systems – Part 1: Seasonal tracer cycles quantify young water fractions, but not mean transit times, in spatially heterogeneous catchments

J. W. Kirchner
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ED: Publish subject to minor revisions (Editor review) (05 Sep 2015) by Thom Bogaard
AR by James Kirchner on behalf of the Authors (26 Oct 2015)  Author's response    Manuscript
ED: Publish as is (02 Dec 2015) by Thom Bogaard
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Catchment mean transit times have been widely inferred from seasonal cycles of environmental tracers in precipitation and streamflow. Here I show that these cycles yield strongly biased estimates of mean transit times in spatially heterogeneous catchments (and, by implication, in real-world catchments). However, I also show that these cycles can be used to reliably estimate the fraction of "young" water in streamflow, meaning water that fell as precipitation less than roughly 2–3 months ago.
Catchment mean transit times have been widely inferred from seasonal cycles of environmental...
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