Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Boise, Idaho » Northwest Watershed Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #322307

Title: Assessment of the timing of daily peak streamflow during melt season in a snow dominated watershed

item CHEN, XING - Duke University
item KUMAR, MUKESH - Duke University
item WANG, RUI - Duke University
item WINSTRAL, ADAM - Swiss Agency For Development & Cooperation
item Marks, Daniel

Submitted to: Journal of Hydrometeorology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/10/2016
Publication Date: 8/16/2016
Citation: Chen, X., Kumar, M., Wang, R., Winstral, A., Marks, D.G. 2016. Assessment of the timing of daily peak streamflow during melt season in a snow dominated watershed. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 17:2225-2244. doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-15-0152.1.

Interpretive Summary: This paper uses a series of numerical experiments to explore the controls on daily peak stream discharge during snowmelt in the RME experimental catchment within the ARS Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed. Using the iSnobal energy balance snowmelt model and the Penn-state Integrated Hydrology Model (PIHM) this study shows how the translation of the melt flux thru the snowcover, water movement thru the channel to the stream gage, and from the snowcover to the stream channel combine to focus the daily peak flow. The study shows how these processes combine to form the peak flow, and how that peak will shift to later in the day as the melt season progresses. While much of this has been inferred in the past, this is the first attempt to simulate the process.

Technical Abstract: Previous studies have shown that gauge-observed daily streamflow peak times (DPT) during spring snowmelt can exhibit distinct temporal shifts through the season. These shifts have been attributed to three processes that affect the timing of snowmelt arrival: 1) melt flux translation through the snowpack or percolation, 2) surface and subsurface flow of melt from the base of snowpacks to streams, and 3) translation of water flux in the streams to stream-gage stations. The goal of this study is to evaluate and quantify how these processes affect observed DPT variations at the Reynolds Mountain East (RME) research catchment in southwest Idaho, USA. To accomplish this goal, DPT was simulated for the RME catchment over a period of 25 water years using a modified snowmelt model, iSnobal, and a hydrology model, PIHM. The influence of each controlling process was then evaluated by simulating the DPT with and without the process under consideration. Both intra- and inter-seasonal variability in DPT were evaluated. Results indicate that the average DPT is dominantly influenced by subsurface flow, whereas the seasonal variations in DPT are primarily controlled by percolation through snow. In addition to the three processes previously identified in the literature, processes governing the time for ripening of the snowpack are identified as additionally influencing DPT variability. Results also indicate that the relative dominance of each control varies through the melt season, and between wet and dry years. The results could be used for supporting DPT prediction efforts and for prioritization of observables for DPT determination.