The characteristic intermittency of rainfall includes temporary cessations (hiatuses), as well as periods of very low intensity within more intense events. To understand how these characteristics of rainfall affect overland flow production, rainfall simulations involving repeated cycles of on-off intermittency were carried out on dryland soils in arid western New South Wales, Australia. Periods of rain (10 mm/h) and no-rain were applied in alternation with cycle times from 3 min to 25 min, in experiments lasting 1–1.5 h. Results showed that intermittency could delay the onset of runoff by more than 30 min, reduce the runoff ratio, reduce the peak runoff rate, and reduce the apparent event infiltration rate by 30–45%. When hiatuses in rainfall were longer than 15–20 min, runoff that had resulted from prior rain ceased completely before the recommencement of rain. Results demonstrate that if rainfall intermittency is not accounted for, estimates of infiltrability based on runoff plot data can be systematically in error. Despite the use of intermittent rain, the episodic occurrence of runoff could be predicted successfully by fitting multiple affine Horton infiltration equations, whose changing f0 and Kf coefficients, but uniform values of fc, reflected the redistribution of soil moisture and the change in the infiltrability f during hiatuses in rainfall. The value of fc varied little among the fitted equations, so constituting an affine set of relationships. This new approach provides an alternative to the use of steady-state methods that are common in rainfall simulation experiments and which typically yield only an estimate of fc. The new field results confirm that intermittency affects infiltration and runoff depths and timing at plot scale and on intra-event timescales. Additional work on other soil types, and at other spatial and temporal scales, is needed to test the generality of these findings.
- Affine Horton infiltration equations
- Fowlers Gap
- Rainfall intermittency