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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
02 Nov 2015
Review status
This discussion paper has been under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC). The revised manuscript was not accepted.
Soil temperature-threshold based runoff generation processes in a permafrost catchment
G. Wang1, T. Mao1, J. Chang2, and G. Liu1 1Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu, 610041, China
2College of Earth and Environment Science, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, 730000, China
Abstract. The contributing-area concept was the universal approach in rainfall–runoff processes modelling. However, it is unclear of the role of permafrost in controlling runoff generation processes. The areas that contribute to runoff generation are complex, variable and difficult to determine in permafrost catchments, and thus, there is no suitable quantitative approach for the simulation of runoff generating dynamics. To understand how thaw-freezing cycle in permafrost catchment effect the runoff generation processes, a typical catchment of continuous permafrost on the Tibetan Plateau was measured, and the spring and autumn season when runoff generation obviously differs from non-permafrost regions were focused on in this study. By introducing soil temperature threshold functions for surface saturation excess runoff generation and subsurface groundwater discharge, two dominant runoff generation types for permafrost catchments in different seasons are analysed, and corresponding simple quantitative approach related to the thawing and freezing periods are presented. The results show that the new approach can exactly identify the runoff generation dynamics of spring thawing and autumn freezing processes. In the permafrost headwater catchments of alpine meadows, the surface soil temperature or thawed depth threshold for variable runoff generation area depend on the zero thawing isotherms, which reach a depth of 40 cm. The subsurface groundwater discharge, which is controlled by soil temperature, contributes more than 85 % of the total river discharge in the autumn freezing period. The crucial variable for the spatial–temporal variation of runoff contributing area in the permafrost catchment is the soil temperature rather than soil moisture.

Citation: Wang, G., Mao, T., Chang, J., and Liu, G.: Soil temperature-threshold based runoff generation processes in a permafrost catchment, The Cryosphere Discuss., 9, 5957-5978,, 2015.
G. Wang et al.
G. Wang et al.


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Short summary
In cold regions, a comprehensive understanding of the runoff generation mechanism at various scales and within different environments still remains elusive, which is one of the most challenging obstructions in the solution of hydrological scale issues and the development of distributed hydrological models. The traditional theory of nonlinear water-storage capacity curve is obviously not suitable to permafrost catchments in which active soil freezing-thawing cycle have important effects on runoff
In cold regions, a comprehensive understanding of the runoff generation mechanism at various...