On the relative role of upslope and downslope topography for describing water flow path and storage dynamics: a theoretical analysis

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Many current conceptual rainfall-runoff and shallow landslide stability models are based on the topographic index concept derived from the steady-state assumption for subsurface water flow dynamics and the hypothesis that the surface gradient is a good approximation for the gradient of the total hydraulic head. However, increasing field evidence from sites around the world has shown poor correlations between the topographic index and the patterns of soil water storage. Here we present a new, smoothed, dynamic topographic index and test the ability of this index to reproduce spatial patterns of wetness areas and storage as provided by a distributed, physically based, Boussinesq equation (BEq) solver. Our results show that the new smoothed dynamic topographic index outperforms previous, locally computed indices in the estimation of storage dynamics, resulting in less fragmented and disconnected spatial patterns of storage. Our new dynamic index is able to capture both the upslope and downslope controls on water flow and approximates storage dynamics across scales. The new index is compatible with high-resolution topographic data. We encourage the use of our smoothed dynamic topographic index to describe the lateral subsurface flow component in landslide generation models and conceptual rainfall-runoff models, especially when high-resolution digital elevation models are available. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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