Solute Transport Through Unsteady Hydrologic Systems Along a Plug Flow-To-Uniform Sampling Continuum


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American Geophysical Union


Unsteady transit time distribution (TTD) theory is a promising new approach for merging hydrologic and water quality models at the catchment scale. A major obstacle to widespread adoption of the theory, however, has been the specification of the StorAge Selection (SAS) function, which describes how the selection of water for outflow is biased by age. In this paper we hypothesize that some unsteady hydrologic systems of practical interest can be described, to first-order, by a “shifted-uniform” SAS that falls along a continuum between plug flow sampling (for which only the oldest water in storage is sampled for outflow) and uniform sampling (for which water in storage is sampled randomly for outflow). For this choice of SAS function, explicit formulae are derived for the evolving: (a) age distribution of water in storage; (b) age distribution of water in outflow; and (c) breakthrough concentration of a conservative solute under either continuous or impulsive addition. Model predictions conform closely to chloride and deuterium breakthrough curves measured previously in a sloping lysimeter subject to periodic wetting, although refinements of the model are needed to account for the reconfiguration of flow paths at high storage levels (the so-called inverse storage effect). The analytical results derived in this paper should lower the barrier to applying TTD theory in practice, ease the computational demands associated with simulating solute transport through complex hydrologic systems, and provide physical insights that might not be apparent from traditional numerical solutions of the governing equations.



transit times, advection, dispersion, unsteady flow, StorAgeSelection, water quality