Catchment-scale advection and dispersion as a mechanism for fractal scaling in stream tracer concentrations

Jw. Kirchner et al., Catchment-scale advection and dispersion as a mechanism for fractal scaling in stream tracer concentrations, J HYDROL, 254(1-4), 2001, pp. 82-101
Citations number
Categorie Soggetti
Environment/Ecology,"Civil Engineering
Journal title
ISSN journal
0022-1694 → ACNP
Year of publication
82 - 101
SICI code
Time series of chemical tracers in rainfall and streamflow can be used to p robe the internal workings of catchments. We have recently proposed that ca tchments act as fractal filters for inert chemical tracers like chloride, c onverting 'white noise' rainfall chemistry inputs into fractal '1/f noise' chemical time series in runoff [Nature 403 (2000) 524]. This implies that c atchments have long-tailed travel-time distributions, and thus retain solub le contaminants for unexpectedly long timespans. Here we show that these lo ng-tailed travel-time distributions, and the fractal tracer time series tha t they imply, can be generated by advection and dispersion of spatially dis tributed rainfall inputs as they travel toward a channel. Tracer pulses tha t land close to the stream reach it promptly, with relatively little disper sion. Tracer pulses that land farther upslope must travel farther to reach the stream, and undergo more dispersion. The tracer signal in the stream wi ll be the integral of the contributions from each point along the length of the hillslope, with a peak at short lag times (reflecting tracers landing near the stream) and a long tail (reflecting tracers landing farther from t he stream), Here we integrate the advection-dispersion equation for rainfal l tracers landing at all points on a simple model hillslope, and show that it yields fractal tracer behavior, as well as a travel-time distribution ne arly equivalent to that found empirically [Nature 403 (2000) 524]. However, it does so only when the dispersion length scale approaches the length of the hillslope, implying that subsurface transport is dominated by large con ductivity contrasts related to macropores, fracture networks, and similar l arge-scale heterogeneities in subsurface conductivity. Thus, the 1/f scalin g observed at our study sites indicates that these catchments are dominated by flowpaths that exhibit macro-dispersion over the longest possible lengt h scales. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.