Precipitation, soil mosture and runoff variabilty in a small river catchment (Ardèche, France) during HyMeX Special Observation Period 1

Huza, J.; Teuling, A.J.; Braud, I.; Grazioli, J.; Melsen, L.A.; Nord, G.; Raupach, T.H.; Uijlenhoet, R.


Flash flooding is a potentially destructive natural hazard known to occur in the Cévennes-Vivarais region in southern France. HyMeX (Hydrological Cycle in the Mediterranean Experiment) is an international program focused on understanding the hydrological cycle in the Mediterranean basin. Soil moisture is known to be a useful indicator of catchment response, however, establishing a meaningful estimation of soil moisture at the catchment level can be difficult due to its high variability in space and time. In a small gauged catchment in the Cévennes-Vivarais region in southern France, a series of manual soil moisture measurements was taken from September to December 2012 at both the field and catchment scale during the Special Observation Period 1 (SOP1) as part of the HyMeX program. Six plots were selected along a trajectory of a microwave link installed in the catchment and were chosen to represent different elevations in the catchment. Within each field plot, surface soil moisture was measured along a 50 m transect at 2 m intervals. This allowed the study of changes in within-field variability as well as between-field variability in response to precipitation events and during the drying out phase. Several precipitation events occurred over this autumn 2012 period which caused a significant wetting-up of the catchment, allowing the study of soil moisture processes over a wide range of wetness conditions. The influence of antecedent catchment conditions (soil moisture) on rainfall–runoff dynamics is demonstrated through the comparison of storm hydrographs for the various events. Dry catchment conditions result in minimal response in event flow, whereas large precipitation events occurring during wetter conditions produce much stronger responses in event flow. This further confirms the importance of quantifying catchment initial conditions to enhance the prediction of flash flood occurrences.