Stormflow generation: A meta-analysis of field evidence from small, forested catchments

Frauke K. Barthold*, Ross A. Woods

*Corresponding author for this work

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

35 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Combinations of runoff characteristics are commonly used to represent distinct conceptual models of stormflow generation. In this study, three runoff characteristics: hydrograph response, time source of runoff water, and flow path are used to classify catchments. Published data from the scientific literature are used to provide evidence from small, forested catchments. Each catchment was assigned to one of the eight conceptual models, depending on the combination of quick/slow response, old/new water, and overland/subsurface flow. A standard procedure was developed to objectively diagnose the predominant conceptual model of stormflow generation for each catchment and assess its temporal and spatial support. The literature survey yielded 42 catchments, of which 30 catchments provide a complete set of qualitative runoff characteristics resulting in one of the eight conceptual models. The majority of these catchments classify as subsurface flow path dominated. No catchments were found for conceptual models representing combinations of quick response-new water-subsurface flow (SSF), slow-new-SSF, slow-old-overland flow (OF) nor new-slow-OF. Of the 30 qualitatively classified catchments, 24 provide a complete set of quantitative measures. In summary, the field support is strong for 19 subsurface-dominated catchments and is weak for 5 surface flow path dominated catchments (six catchments had insufficient quantitative data). Two alternative explanations exist for the imbalance of field support between the two flow path classes: (1) the selection of research catchments in past field studies was mainly to explain quick hydrograph response in subsurface dominated catchments; (2) catchments with prevailing subsurface flow paths are more common in nature. We conclude that the selection of research catchments needs to cover a wider variety of environmental conditions which should lead to a broader, and more widely applicable, spectrum of resulting conceptual models and process mechanisms. This is a prerequisite in studies where catchment organization and similarity approaches are used to develop catchment classification systems in order to regionalize stormflow.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2014WR016221
Pages (from-to)3730–3753
Number of pages24
JournalWater Resources Research
Early online date5 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2015


  • Catchment classification
  • Flow path
  • Meta-analysis
  • Storm runoff response
  • Temporal source


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