On hydrologic similarity: 3. A dimensionless flood frequency model using a generalized geomorphologic unit hydrograph and partial area runoff generation

Murugesu Sivapalan, Eric F. Wood, Keith J. Beven

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136 Scopus citations


One of the shortcomings of the original theory of the geomorphologic unit hydrograph (GUH) is that it assumes that runoff is generated uniformly from the entire catchment area. It is now recognized that in many catchments much of the runoff during storm events is produced on partial areas which usually form on narrow bands along the stream network. A storm response model that includes runoff generation on partial areas by both Hortonian and Dunne mechanisms was recently developed by the authors. In this paper a methodology for integrating this partial area runoff generation model with the GUH‐based runoff routing model is presented; this leads to a generalized GUH. The generalized GUH and the storm response model are then used to estimate physically based flood frequency distributions. In most previous work the initial moisture state of the catchment had been assumed to be constant for all the storms. In this paper we relax this assumption and allow the initial moisture conditions to vary between storms. The resulting flood frequency distributions are cast in a scaled dimensionless framework where issues such as catchment scale and similarity can be conveniently addressed. A number of experiments are performed to study the sensitivity of the flood frequency response to some of the “similarity” parameters identified in this formulation. The results indicate that one of the most important components of the derived flood frequency model relates to the specification of processes within the runoff generation model; specifically the inclusion of both saturation excess (Dunne) and Horton infiltration excess runoff production mechanisms. The dominance of these mechanisms over different return periods of the flood frequency distribution can significantly affect the distributional shape and confidence limits about the distribution. Comparisons with observed flood distributions seem to indicate that such mixed runoff production mechanisms influence flood distribution shape. The sensitivity analysis also indicated that the incorporation of basin and rainfall storm scale also greatly influences the distributional shape of the flood frequency curve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-58
Number of pages16
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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