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How old is streamwater? Open questions in catchment transit time conceptualization, modelling and analysis.

Hydrol. Process. 24, 1745-1754 (2010)
DOI
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The time water spends travelling subsurface through a catchment to the stream network (i.e. the catchment water transit time) fundamentally describes the storage, flow pathway heterogeneity and sources of water in a catchment. The distribution of transit times reflects how catchments retain and release water and solutes that in turn set biogeochemical conditions and affect contamination release or persistence. Thus, quantifying the transit time distribution provides an important constraint on biogeochemical processes and catchment sensitivity to anthropogenic inputs, contamination and land-use change. Although the assumptions and limitations of past and present transit time modelling approaches have been recently reviewed (McGuire and McDonnell, 2006), there remain many fundamental research challenges for understanding how transit time can be used to quantify catchment flow processes and aid in the development and testing of rainfall -runoff models. In this Commentary study, we summarize what we think are the open research questions in transit time research. These thoughts come from a 3-day workshop in January 2009 at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. We attempt to lay out a roadmap for this work for the hydrological community over the next 10 years. We do this by first defining what we mean (qualitatively and quantitatively) by transit time and then organize our vision around needs in transit time theory, needs in field studies of transit time and needs in rainfal - runoff modelling. Our goal in presenting this material is to encourage widespread use of transit time information in process studies to provide new insights to catchment function and to inform the structural development and testing of hydrologic models.
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Publication type Article: Journal article
Document type Scientific Article
Keywords water residence times; solute transport; tracer data; mesoscale catchment; flow; distributions; topography; dispersion; hydrology; systems
Reviewing status