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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Patterns of water table dynamics and runoff generation in a watershed with preferential flow networks Anderson, Axel Edward


Our understanding of subsurface flow depends on assumptions of how event characteristics and spatial scale affect the relationships between subsurface water velocity, discharge, water table dynamics, and runoff response. In this thesis, three chapters explore some of these patterns for a hillslope and small watershed in coastal British Columbia. In the first chapter, tracers were applied under natural and steady state conditions to determine the relationship between lateral tracer velocities and various hillslope and event characteristics; such as hillslope subsurface flow, rainfall intensity, water table level, hillslope length, and antecedent condition. The results showed that preferential flow made up a large percentage of the subsurface flow from the gauged hillslope. Flow velocities as measured by tracers were affected by slope length and boundary conditions. The flow velocity was most closely related to the rainfall intensity, and changes in flow velocity were large compared to the changes in the water table. In the second chapter, the preferential flow features that transmitted water during steady state were investigated by staining the soil with a food dye solution and excavating the soil. These data were used to explore the link between the topographical factors (slope and contributing area), the network of preferential features and soil properties. The contributing area appeared to be an indicator of the size of the preferential features and their connectivity. In the final manuscript chapter, water table level and stream discharge measurements were used to determine if areas within a watershed with runoff dominated by preferential flow could be grouped based on the observable physical information such as slope, contributing area, distance to stream, and vegetation. Preferential flow made the water table responses dynamic and thus, distinct zones could not be identified. Models of the water table – runoff were not able to predict the water table response for other sites with similar physical characteristics. Even though there was high variability in the results, the patterns and relationships revealed in this thesis conform to existing conceptual models of hillslope subsurface preferential flow. These patterns and relationships may be useful in developing or validating numerical models.

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