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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Water Resources Research
Volume (Issue) 57(12)
Page(s) e2021WR030
Title of proceedings Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1029/2021wr030221

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


In many areas of the world, the surface of the earth is changing rapidly. This can affect the partitioning of precipitation into overland flow (OF) and infiltration. OF can reach the stream quickly and thus strongly influences the streamflow response to precipitation. It can also cause surface erosion. However, our knowledge of the changes in OF responses during landscape evolution is still limited. To investigate how hillslope aging effects OF, we studied three plots on four different aged moraines (several decades to ∼13.5 thousand years old) at a silicate and carbonate proglacial area in the Swiss Alps. We used sprinkling experiments to determine OF characteristics (such as the runoff ratio and timing) and used tracers (δ2H and NaCl) to identify the mixing of rainfall and soil water. Sediment concentrations and turbidity measurements provided an estimate of OF-driven soil erosion rates. The OF ratios were largest (42%) for the oldest moraines because the clay-rich layer at 20–40 cm below the surface caused saturated OF. However, OF occurred more frequently on the youngest moraines due to the high stone cover. Soil and vegetation development increase the soil water retention capacity and the pre-event water fractions in OF for the old moraines, but decreased the suspended sediment yield. The results show that OF characteristics and sediment transport change markedly during landscape evolution. This needs to be taken into account when simulating runoff and erosion responses for rapidly changing Alpine areas, and can—together with the outcomes for subsurface flow (see companion paper Maier et al., 2021,—be used to improve landscape evolution models.