Intra-catchment variability of surface saturation - Insights from physically based simulations in comparison with biweekly thermal infrared image observations

Glaser, Barbara; Antonelli, Marta; Hopp, Luisa; Klaus, Julian


In this study, we explored the spatio-temporal variability of surface saturation within a forested headwater catchment using a combined simulation-observation approach. We simulated the occurrence of surface saturation in the Weierbach catchment (Luxembourg) with the physically based model HydroGeoSphere. We confronted the simulation with thermal infrared images that we acquired during a 2-year mapping campaign for seven distinct riparian areas with weekly to biweekly recurrence frequency. Observations and simulations showed similar saturation dynamics across the catchment. The observed and simulated relation of surface saturation to catchment discharge resembled a power law relationship for all investigated riparian areas but varied to a similar extent, as previously observed between catchments of different morphological and topographical characteristics. The observed spatial patterns and frequencies of surface saturation varied between and within the investigated areas and the model reproduced these spatial variations well. The good performance of the simulation suggested that surface saturation in the Weierbach catchment is largely controlled by exfiltration of groundwater into local topographic depressions. However, the simulated surface saturation contracted faster than observed, the simulated saturation dynamics were less variable between the investigated areas than observed, and the match of simulated and observed saturation patterns was not equally good in all investigated riparian areas. These mismatches between observations and simulation highlight that the intra-catchment variability of surface saturation must also result from factors that were not considered in the model set-up, such as differing subsurface structures or a differing persistence of surface saturation due to local morphological features like perennial springs.