The response of intermittent catchments to rainfall is complex and difficult to model. This study uses the spatially distributed CATchment HYdrology (CATHY) model to explore how the frequency of daily rainfall (λ) can affect the hydrologic regime of intermittent catchments. After a multi-objective calibration and validation of CATHY against experimental measurements of streamflow and groundwater levels in a catchment used as a pasture, the role of λ in affecting streamflow characteristics was explored using different scenarios. With different values of λ for the dry and wet periods of the year, CATHY showed that a series of frequent rainfall events was often associated with incipient streamflow, independent of the season. Activation of streamflow during the wet season was related to multiple factors and was not often associated with the shallow groundwater levels near the outlet of the catchment. The interplay between rainfall depth and intensity acted as the most important factor for the generation of streamflow. Using the difference between accumulated rainfall and evapotranspiration as a measure of wetness, saturated subsurface flow mechanism generated streamflow in simulations with wetness at least three times larger than mean wetness of other simulations. Although groundwater uprise near the outlet did not effectively contribute to streamflow in the initial days of flow, it strongly correlated with the magnitude of the runoff coefficient. Values of λ close or equal to the maximum value in the wet season can sustain the connectivity between groundwater and streamflow in the riparian zone. This connectivity increases the catchment wetness, which consequently results in an increase of the generated streamflow. Our study showed that rainfall regimes characterized by different λ were able to identify distinct flow regimes typical of either intermittent, ephemeral, or nonflowing catchments. Decrease of λ in the wet season is likely associated with a reduction of streamflow, with a shift of flow regime from intermittent to ephemeral or no-flow.
- CATHY model
- integrated surface–subsurface hydrological modelling
- intermittent catchments
- rainfall frequency
- stochastic scenarios