Multiple hydrological attractors under stochastic daily forcing: 1. Can multiple attractors exist?

T. J. Peterson, A. W. Western

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Including positive feedbacks in hydrological models has recently been shown to result in complex behavior with multiple steady states. When a large disturbance, say a major drought, is simulated within such models the hydrology changes. Once the disturbance ends the hydrology does not return to that prior to the disturbance, but rather, persists within an alternate state. These multiple steady states (henceforth attractors) exist for a single model parameterization and cause the system to have a finite resilience to such transient disturbances. A limitation of past hydrological resilience studies is that multiple attractors have been identified using mean annual or mean monthly forcing. Considering that most hydrological fluxes are subject to significant forcing stochasticity and do not operate at such large timescales, it remains an open question whether multiple hydrological attractors can exist when a catchment is subject to stochastic daily forcing. This question is the focus of this paper and it needs to be addressed prior to searching for multiple hydrological attractors in the field. To investigate this, a previously developed semidistributed hillslope ecohydrological model was adopted which exhibited multiple steady states under average monthly climate forcing. In this paper, the ecohydrological model was used to explore if feedbacks between the vegetation and a saline water table result in two attractors existing under daily stochastic forcing. The attractors and the threshold between them (henceforth repellor) were quantified using a new limit cycle continuation technique that upscaled climate forcing from daily to monthly (model and limit cycle code is freely available). The method was used to determine the values of saturated lateral hydraulic conductivity at which multiple attractors exist. These estimates were then assessed against time-integration estimates, which they agreed with. Overall, multiple attractors were found to exist under stochastic daily forcing. However, changing the climate forcing from monthly to daily did significantly reduce the parameter range over which two attractors existed. This suggests fewer catchments may have multiple attractors than previously considered. Key Points Multiple hydrological attractors can exist under daily climate forcing Daily forcing reduces the likelihood of multiple attractors Monthly, or annual, forcing produces inaccurate estimates of attractors

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2993-3009
Number of pages17
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • climate scaling
  • continuation analysis
  • hillslope-storage Boussinesq
  • hydrological resilience

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