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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Where and When to Collect Tracer Data to Diagnose Hillslope Permeability Architecture

Ameli, Ali A.; Laudon, Hjalmar; Teutschbein, Claudia; Bishop, Kevin


The permeability architecture has a major influence on hillslope flow path and hydrogeochemistry. To constrain this architecture and overcome equifinality in the diagnosis of hillslope flow paths within hydrologic transport models, different types of complementary data (e.g., tracer) have been recommended. However, there is still little information on the extent to which such complementary data can unravel the permeability architecture, and where and when to measure such data to most efficiently constrain models. Here, we couple a Richards-based flow and transport model with extensive long-term field measurements to compare the relative value of different types of hydrometric and tracer data in discriminating between contrasting permeability (or saturated hydraulic conductivity (K-s)) architectures, in the absence of macropore flow. Our results show that compared to streamflow and water table observations, stream tracer data have a stronger evaluative potential to constrain hillslope vertical pattern in Ks, in particular during seasons when flow is on average low (e.g., winter or summer). Tracer data from within the hillslope are even more helpful to discriminate between different vertical patterns in K-s than stream tracer data. This suggests a higher evaluative potential for hillslope tracer observations. This evaluative potential of hillslope data depends on where and when the data are collected, and increases with depth from the soil surface, with distance from the stream and during seasons when flow is low. The findings also emphasize the importance of incorporating hillslope permeability architecture in hydrologic transport models in order to reduce the uncertainty in the predictions of stream water quality.


subsurface permeability architecture; hydrologic flow path; residence time; conservative tracer; equifinality; transit time

Published in

Water Resources Research
2021, volume: 57, number: 8, article number: e2020WR028719

Authors' information

Ameli, Ali A.
University of British Columbia
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Teutschbein, Claudia
Uppsala University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment

UKÄ Subject classification

Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

Publication Identifiers


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