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Hydrological trends and the evolution of catchment research in the Alptal valley, central Switzerland


Stähli, Manfred; Seibert, Jan; Kirchner, James W; von Freyberg, Jana; van Meerveld, H J (2021). Hydrological trends and the evolution of catchment research in the Alptal valley, central Switzerland. Hydrological Processes, 35(4):e14113.

Abstract

When the observation of small headwater catchments in the pre-Alpine Alptal valley (central Switzerland) started in the late 1960s, the researchers were mainly interested in questions related to floods and forest management. Investigations of geomorphological processes in the steep torrent channels followed in the 1980s, along with detailed observations of biogeochemical and ecohydrological processes in individual forest stands. More recently, research in the Alptal has addressed the impacts of climate change on water supply and runoff generation. In this article, we describe, for the first time, the evolution of catchment research at Alptal, and present new analyses of long-term trends and short-term hydrologic behaviour. Hydrometeorological time series from the past 50 years show substantial interannual variability, but only minimal long-term trends, except for the ~2°C increase in mean annual air temperature over the 50-year period, and a corresponding shift towards earlier snowmelt. Similar to previous studies in larger Alpine catchments, the decadal variations in mean annual runoff in Alptal's small research catchments reflect the long-term variability in annual precipitation. In the Alptal valley, the most evident hydrological trends were observed in late spring and are related to the substantial change in the duration of the snow cover. Streamflow and water quality are highly variable within and between hydrological events, suggesting rapid shifts in flow pathways and mixing, as well as changing connectivity of runoff-generating areas. This overview illustrates how catchment research in the Alptal has evolved in response to changing societal concerns and emerging scientific questions.

Abstract

When the observation of small headwater catchments in the pre-Alpine Alptal valley (central Switzerland) started in the late 1960s, the researchers were mainly interested in questions related to floods and forest management. Investigations of geomorphological processes in the steep torrent channels followed in the 1980s, along with detailed observations of biogeochemical and ecohydrological processes in individual forest stands. More recently, research in the Alptal has addressed the impacts of climate change on water supply and runoff generation. In this article, we describe, for the first time, the evolution of catchment research at Alptal, and present new analyses of long-term trends and short-term hydrologic behaviour. Hydrometeorological time series from the past 50 years show substantial interannual variability, but only minimal long-term trends, except for the ~2°C increase in mean annual air temperature over the 50-year period, and a corresponding shift towards earlier snowmelt. Similar to previous studies in larger Alpine catchments, the decadal variations in mean annual runoff in Alptal's small research catchments reflect the long-term variability in annual precipitation. In the Alptal valley, the most evident hydrological trends were observed in late spring and are related to the substantial change in the duration of the snow cover. Streamflow and water quality are highly variable within and between hydrological events, suggesting rapid shifts in flow pathways and mixing, as well as changing connectivity of runoff-generating areas. This overview illustrates how catchment research in the Alptal has evolved in response to changing societal concerns and emerging scientific questions.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Scopus Subject Areas:Physical Sciences > Water Science and Technology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Water Science and Technology
Language:English
Date:1 April 2021
Deposited On:15 Dec 2021 15:08
Last Modified:16 Jun 2024 03:46
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0885-6087
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.14113