GRACE storage-streamflow hystereses reveal the dynamics of regional watersheds

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  • We characterize how regional watersheds function as simple, dynamic systems through a series of hysteresis loops. These loops illustrate the temporal relationship between runoff and terrestrial water storage using measurements from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in three regional-scale watersheds (>150 000 km² ) of the Columbia River Basin, USA and Canada. The direction of the hystereses for the GRACE signal move in opposite directions from the isolated groundwater hystereses, suggesting that regional scale watersheds require soil water storage to reach a certain threshold before groundwater recharge and peak runoff occur. While the physical processes underlying these hystereses are inherently complex, the vertical integration of terrestrial water in the GRACE signal encapsulates the processes that govern the non-linear function of regional-scale watersheds. We use this process-based understanding to test how GRACE data can be applied prognostically to predict seasonal runoff (mean R² of 0.91) and monthly runoff (mean R² of 0.77) in all three watersheds. The global nature of GRACE data allows this same methodology to be applied in other regional-scale studies, and could be particularly useful in regions with minimal data and in trans-boundary watersheds.
  • This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in HESS. The published article is copyrighted by the author(s) and published by Copernicus Publications on behalf of the European Geosciences Union. The published article can be found at:
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  • Sproles, E. A., Leibowitz, S. G., Reager, J. T., Wigington Jr, P. J., Famiglietti, J. S., & Patil, S. D. (2014). GRACE storage-streamflow hystereses reveal the dynamics of regional watersheds. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions, 11, 12027-12062. doi:0.5194/hessd-11-12027-2014
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  • 11
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  • GRACE terrestrial data were processed by Sean Swenson, supported by the NASA MEaSUREs Program, and are available at The information in this document has been funded entirely by the US Environmental Protection Agency, in part by an appointment to the Internship/Research Participation Program at the Office of Research and Development, US Environmental Protection Agency, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the US Department of Energy and EPA.
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