Full-flow-regime storage-streamflow correlation patterns provide insights into hydrologic functioning over the continental US

Kuai Fang, Chaopeng Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Interannual changes in low, median, and high regimes of streamflow have important implications for flood control, irrigation, and ecologic and human health. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites record global terrestrial water storage anomalies (TWSA), providing an opportunity to observe, interpret, and potentially utilize the complex relationships between storage and full-flow-regime streamflow. Here we show that utilizable storage-streamflow correlations exist throughout vastly different climates in the continental US (CONUS) across low- to high-flow regimes. A panoramic framework, the storage-streamflow correlation spectrum (SSCS), is proposed to examine macroscopic gradients in these relationships. SSCS helps form, corroborate or reject hypotheses about basin hydrologic behaviors. SSCS patterns vary greatly over CONUS with climate, land surface, and geologic conditions. Data mining analysis suggests that for catchments with hydrologic settings that favor storage over runoff, e.g., a large fraction of precipitation as snow, thick and highly-permeable permeable soil, SSCS values tend to be high. Based on our results, we form the hypotheses that groundwater flow dominates streamflows in Southeastern CONUS and Great Plains, while thin soils in a belt along the Appalachian Plateau impose alimit on water storage. SSCS also suggests shallow water table caused by high-bulk density soil and flat terrain induces rapid runoff in several regions. Our results highlight the importance of subsurface properties and groundwater flow in capturing flood and drought. We propose that SSCS can be used as a fundamental hydrologic signature to constrain models and to provide insights thatlead usto better understand hydrologic functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8064-8083
Number of pages20
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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