Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (2020-05-01)

Concentration–discharge relationships vary among hydrological events, reflecting differences in event characteristics

  • J. L. A. Knapp,
  • J. von Freyberg,
  • J. von Freyberg,
  • B. Studer,
  • L. Kiewiet,
  • J. W. Kirchner,
  • J. W. Kirchner,
  • J. W. Kirchner

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 24
pp. 2561 – 2576


Read online

Studying the response of streamwater chemistry to changes in discharge can provide valuable insights into how catchments store and release water and solutes. Previous studies have determined concentration–discharge (cQ) relationships from long-term, low-frequency data of a wide range of solutes. These analyses, however, provide little insight into the coupling of solute concentrations and flow during individual hydrologic events. Event-scale cQ relationships have rarely been investigated across a wide range of solutes and over extended periods of time, and thus little is known about differences and similarities between event-scale and long-term cQ relationships. Differences between event-scale and long-term cQ behavior may provide useful information about the processes regulating their transport through the landscape. Here we analyze cQ relationships of 14 different solutes, ranging from major ions to trace metals, as well as electrical conductivity, in the Swiss Erlenbach catchment. From a 2-year time series of sub-hourly solute concentration data, we determined 2-year cQ relationships for each solute and compared them to cQ relationships of 30 individual events. The 2-year cQ behavior of groundwater-sourced solutes was representative of their cQ behavior during hydrologic events. Other solutes, however, exhibited very different cQ patterns at the event scale and across 2 consecutive years. This was particularly true for trace metals and atmospheric and/or biologically active solutes, many of which exhibited highly variable cQ behavior from one event to the next. Most of this inter-event variability in cQ behavior could be explained by factors such as catchment wetness, season, event size, input concentrations, and event-water contributions. We present an overview of the processes regulating different groups of solutes, depending on their origin in and pathways through the catchment. Our analysis thus provides insight into controls on solute variations at the hydrologic event scale.