A method of estimating in-stream residence time of water in rivers

F. Worrall*, N. J K Howden, T. P. Burt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


This study develops a method for estimating the average in-stream residence time of water in a river channel and across large catchments, i.e. the time between water entering a river and reaching a downstream monitoring point. The methodology uses river flow gauging data to integrate Manning's equation along a length of channel for different percentile flows. The method was developed and tested for the River Tees in northern England and then applied across the United Kingdom (UK).(i)The study developed methods to predict channel width and main channel length from catchment area.(ii)For an 818km2 catchment with a channel length of 79km, the in-stream residence time at the 50% exceedence flow was 13.8h.(iii)The method was applied to nine UK river basins and the results showed that in-stream residence time was related to the average slope of a basin and its average annual rainfall.(iv)For the UK as a whole, the discharge-weighted in-stream residence time was 26.7h for the median flow. At median flow, 50% of the discharge-weighted in-stream residence time was due to only 6 out of the 323 catchments considered.(v)Since only a few large rivers dominate the in-stream residence time, these rivers will dominate key biogeochemical processes controlling export at the national scale.(vi)The implications of the results for biogeochemistry, especially the turnover of carbon in rivers, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-284
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2014


  • BOD
  • DOC
  • Reaction kinetics
  • Transit time


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