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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Hydrological trends and the evolution of catchment research in the Alptal valley, central Switzerland

Stahli, Manfred; Seibert, Jan; Kirchner, James W.; von Freyberg, Jana; van Meerveld, Ilja


When the observation of small headwater catchments in the pre-Alpine Alptal valley (central Switzerland) started in the late 1960s, the researchers were mainly interested in questions related to floods and forest management. Investigations of geomorphological processes in the steep torrent channels followed in the 1980s, along with detailed observations of biogeochemical and ecohydrological processes in individual forest stands. More recently, research in the Alptal has addressed the impacts of climate change on water supply and runoff generation. In this article, we describe, for the first time, the evolution of catchment research at Alptal, and present new analyses of long-term trends and short-term hydrologic behaviour. Hydrometeorological time series from the past 50 years show substantial interannual variability, but only minimal long-term trends, except for the similar to 2 degrees C increase in mean annual air temperature over the 50-year period, and a corresponding shift towards earlier snowmelt. Similar to previous studies in larger Alpine catchments, the decadal variations in mean annual runoff in Alptal's small research catchments reflect the long-term variability in annual precipitation. In the Alptal valley, the most evident hydrological trends were observed in late spring and are related to the substantial change in the duration of the snow cover. Streamflow and water quality are highly variable within and between hydrological events, suggesting rapid shifts in flow pathways and mixing, as well as changing connectivity of runoff-generating areas. This overview illustrates how catchment research in the Alptal has evolved in response to changing societal concerns and emerging scientific questions.


catchment change; climate change; ecohydrology; hydrological regime; hydrological trends; pre-alpine catchment; runoff formation

Published in

Hydrological Processes
2021, Volume: 35, number: 4, article number: e14113
Publisher: WILEY

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

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