Synthesizing the impacts of baseflow contribution on concentration-discharge (C-Q) relationships across Australia using a Bayesian hierarchical model

Danlu Guo, Camille Minaudo, Anna Lintern, Ulrike Bende-Michl, Shuci Liu, Kefeng Zhang, Clément Duvert

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Understanding concentration-discharge (C-Q) relationships can inform catchment solute and particulate export processes. Previous studies have shown that the extent to which baseflow contributes to streamflow can affect C-Q relationships in some catchments. However, the current understanding on the effects of baseflow contribution in shaping the C-Q patterns is largely derived from temperate catchments. As such, we still lack quantitative understanding of these effects across a wide range of climates (e.g. arid, tropical and subtropical). The study aims to assess how baseflow contributions, as defined by the median and the range of daily baseflow indices within individual catchments (BFI-m and BFI-range, respectively), influence C-Q slopes across 157 catchments in Australia spanning five climate zones. This study focuses on six water quality variables: electrical conductivity (EC), total phosphorus (TP), soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP), total suspended solids (TSS), the sum of nitrate and nitrite (NOx) and total nitrogen (TN). The impact of baseflow contributions is explored with a novel Bayesian hierarchical model. For sediments and nutrient species (TSS, NOx, TN and TP), we generally see largely positive C-Q slopes, which suggest a dominance of mobilization export patterns. Further, for TSS, NOx and TP we see stronger mobilization (steeper positive C-Q slopes) in catchments with higher values in both the BFI-m and BFI-range, as these two metrics are positively correlated for most catchments. The enhanced mobilization in catchments with higher BFI-m or BFI-range is likely due to the more variable flow pathways that occur in catchments with higher baseflow contributions. These variable flow pathways can lead to higher concentration gradients between low flows and high flows, where the former is generally dominated by groundwater/slow subsurface flow while the latter by surface water sources, respectively. This result highlights the crucial role of flow pathways in determining catchment exports of solutes and particulates. Our study also demonstrates the need for further studies on how the temporal variations of flow regimes and baseflow contributions influence flow pathways and the potential impacts of these flow pathways on catchment C-Q relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2022


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