Patterns of similarity of seasonal water balances: A window into streamflow variability over a range of time scales

Wouter R. Berghuijs*, Murugesu Sivapalan, Ross A. Woods, Hubert H G Savenije

*Corresponding author for this work

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

159 Citations (Scopus)
573 Downloads (Pure)


Recent hydrologic synthesis efforts have presented evidence that the seasonal water balance isat the core of overall catchment responses, and understanding it will assist in predicting signatures ofstreamflow variability at other time scales, including interannual variability, the flow duration curve, lowflows, and floods. In this study, we group 321 catchments located across the continental U.S. into severalclusters with similar seasonal water balance behavior. We then delineate the boundaries between theseclusters on the basis of a similarity framework based on three hydroclimatic indices that represent aridity,precipitation timing, and snowiness. The clustering of catchments based on the seasonal water balance hasa strong relationship not only with regional patterns of the three climate indices but also with regional eco-system, soil, and vegetation classes, which point to the strong dependence of these physiographic charac-teristics on seasonal climate variations and the hydrologic regimes. Building on these catchment clusters,we demonstrate that the seasonal water balance does have an imprint on signatures of streamflow variabili-ty over a wide range of time scales (daily to decadal) and a wide range of states (low flows to floods). Theseasonal water balance is well integrated into variability at seasonal and longer time scales, but is onlypartly reflected in the signatures at shorter time scales, including flooding responses. Overall, the seasonalwater balance has proven to be a similarity measure that serves as a link between both short-term hydro-logic responses and long-term adaptation of the landscape with climate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5638-5661
Number of pages24
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2014

Bibliographical note

Accepted 23 JUN 2014

Structured keywords

  • Water and Environmental Engineering


  • classification
  • hydrologic similarity
  • seasonal water balance
  • streamflow variability
  • vegetation adaptation


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