Quantifying the effects of subsurface heterogeneity on hillslope runoff using a stochastic approach

Steven B. Meyerhoff, Reed M. Maxwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The role of heterogeneity and uncertainty in hydraulic conductivity on hillslope runoff production was evaluated using the fully integrated hydrologic model ParFlow. Simulations were generated using idealized high-resolution hillslopes configured both with a deep water table and a water table equal to the outlet to isolate surface and subsurface flow, respectively. Heterogeneous, correlated random fields were used to create spatial variability in the hydraulic conductivity. Ensembles, generated by multiple realizations of hydraulic conductivity, were used to evaluate how this uncertainty propagates to runoff. Ensemble averages were used to determine the effective runoff for a given hillslope as a function of rainfall rate and degree of subsurface heterogeneity. Cases where the water table is initialized at the outlet show runoff behavior with little sensitivity to variance in hydraulic conductivity. A technique is presented that explicitly interrogates individual realizations at every simulation timestep to partition overland and subsurface flow contributions. This hydrograph separation technique shows that the degree of heterogeneity can play a role in determining proportions of surface and subsurface flow, even when effective hillslope outflow is seen. This method is also used to evaluate current hydrograph separation techniques and demonstrates that recursive filters can accurately proportion overland and base-flow for certain cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1515-1530
Number of pages16
JournalHydrogeology Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • Dunne
  • Groundwater/surface-water relations
  • Heterogeneity
  • Hortonian
  • Rainfall/runoff


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