Isotopic hydrograph separation in two small mountain catchments during multiple events

L. Holko, S. Bičárová, J. Hlavčo, M. Danko, Z. Kostka


Two-component isotopic hydrograph separation (IHS) was developed to determine the event- and pre-event components of a single storm event. Its application for several sucessive events requires repeated determination of isotopic signatures of end-members (precipitation, pre-event component) for each event. The existence of several possible alternative signatures results in differences in calculated contributions of event-/pre- event components. This article addresses the question of how big the differences could be in small mountain catchments with different methods for detemining the end member signatures. We analyzed data on isotopic composition of daily/event precipitation at different elevations in two catchments located in the highest part of the Carpathians in July 2014.The isotopic composition of streamflow sampled every 4-6 hours was analyzed as well. Elevational gradients of δ18O and δ2H in precipitation in the study period were -0.18 ‰ 100 m-1 and -1.1 ‰ 100 m-1, respectively. An elevation gradient in deuterium excess (0.29 ‰ 100 m-1) was also found. Precipitation on the windward side of the mountains was isotopically lighter than expected for a given rain gauge elevation. Five large rainfall-runoff events occurred in the study period in the meso-scale catchment of the Jalovecký creek (Western Tatra Mountains, area 22.2 km2) and in the headwater catchment of the Škaredý creek (High Tatra Mountains, area 1.4 km2). Isotopic hydrograph separation was conducted using eight options for the isotopic signatures of event and pre-event water. The isotopic signature of the event water (rainfall) was alternatively represented by data from high or low elevations. Pre-event water was represented either by the streamflow before the event or by the value taken from the statistics of the long-term data on isotopic composition of the stream. Both isotopes (18O and 2H) were used to calculate event water fractions during peak flows of individual events. Calculated peak flow event water fractions were below 0.2-0.3 for most events. However, the differences in calculated event water fractions for alternative isotopic composition of end-members were significant even if we did not take into account changes in isotopic composition during individual rainfalls. Coefficients of variation for event water fractions calculated for various options varied during individual events from 0.14 to 0.36. It is therefore perhaps better to use a range of possible values instead of a single accurate number to interpret the IHS results. Hydrograph separations based on 18O and 2H provided similar results.


isotopic hydrograph separation; oxygen-18; deuterium; elevational gradients; meso-scale and headwater catchments

Full Text:



Bičárová, S., Holko, L. 2013. Changes of characteristics of daily precipitation and runoff in the High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia over the last fifty years. Contributions to Geophysics and Geodesy 43 (2), 157-177.

Coplen, T.B., Wassenaar, L. 2015. LIMS for Lasers 2015 for achieving long-term accuracy and precision of δ2H, δ17O, and δ18O of waters using laser absorption spectrometry. Rapid Commununications in Mass Spectrometry 29, 2122-2130.

Craig, H. 1961. Isotopic variations in meteoric waters. Science 133, 1702-1703.

Dansgaard, W. 1964. Stable isotopes in precipitation. Tellus 16 (4), 436-468.

Dinçer, T., Payne, B., Florkowski, T., Martinec, J., Tongiorgi, E. 1970. Snowmelt runoff from measurements of tritium and oxygen-18. Water Resources Research 6 (1), 110-124.

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Carpathian Mountains., acessed in June 2017.

Fleischer, P., Pichler, V., Fleischer P. Jr., Holko, L. Máliš, F., Gömöryová, E., Cudlín, P., Holeksa, J., Michalová, Z., Homolová, Z., Škvarenina, J., Střelcová, K., Hlaváč, P. 2017. Forest ecosystem services affected by natural disturbances, climate and land-use changes in the Tatra Mountains. Climate Research 73, 57-71.

Froechlich, K., Kralik, M., Papesch, W., Rank, D., Scheifinger, H., Stichler, W. 2008. Deuterium excess in precipitation of Alpine regions – moisture recycling. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies 44 (1), 61-70.

Genereux, D.P., Hooper, R.P. 1998. Oxygen and Hydrogen Isotopes in Rainfall-Runoff Studies. In: C. Kendall, J.J. McDonnell (Eds.), Isotope tracers in catchment hydrology, Elsevier, pp. 319-326.

Hermann, A., Martinec, J., Stichler, W. 1978. Study of snowmelt-runoff components using isotope measurements. In: S.C. Colbeck, M. Ray (Eds.), Modeling of Snow Cover Runoff, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, New Hampshire, 26-28 Sept. 1978, 288-296.

Hlaváčiková, H., Novák. J., Holko, L. 2015. On the role of rock fragments and initial soil water content in the potential subsurface runoff formation. Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics 63 (1), 71-81.

Holko, L. 1995. Stable environmental isotopes of 18O and 2H in hydrological research of mountainous catchment. Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics 43 (4-5), 249-274.

Holko, L. 2015. Syringe life and memory effects in isotopic analyses performed by liquid water isotopic analysers – a case study for natural waters from central Europe. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies 52, 553-559.

Holko, L., Kostka, Z. 2007. Snow cover in northern Slovakia – past, present and future. Folia Geographica Series Geographica-Physica 37-38 (1), 37-51.

Holko, L., Kostka, Z. 2008. Hydrological characteristics of snow cover in the Western Tatra Mountains in winters 1987-2008. Folia Geographica, Series Geographica-Physica 39, 63-77.

Holko, L., Kostka, Z. 2010. Hydrological processes in mountains – knowledge gained in the Jalovecky Creek catchment, Slovakia. In: A. Herrmann, S. Schumann (Eds.), Status and Perspectives of Hydrology in Small Basins, IAHS Publications 336, 84-89.

Holko, L., Škvarenina, J., Kostka, Z., Frič, M., Staroň, J. 2009a. Impact of spruce forest on rainfall interception and seasonal snow cover evolution in the Western Tatra Mountains, Slovakia. Biologia 64 (3), 594-599.

Holko, L., Hlavatá, H., Kostka, Z., Novák, J. 2009b. Hydrological regimes of small catchments in the High Tatra Mountains before and after extraordinary wind-induced deforestation. Folia Geographica Series Geographica-Physica 40, 33-44.

Holko, L., Kostka, Z., Gorbachova, L. 2011a. Snow Hydrology in Central Europe. Geography Compass 5 (4), 200-218.

Holko, L., Kostka, Z., Šanda, M. 2011b. Assessment of Frequency and Areal Extent of Overland Flow Generation in a Forested Mountain Catchment. Soil & Water Research 6 (1), 43-53.

Holko, L., Fleischer, P., Novák, V., Kostka, Z., Bičárová, S., Novák, J. 2012a. Hydrological Effects of a Large Scale Windfall Degradation in the High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia. In: J. Krecek, M.J. Haigh, T. Hofer, E. Kubin (Eds.), Management of Mountain Watersheds, Springer, ISBN 978-94-007-2476-1 (e-book), pp. 164-179.

Holko, L., Dóša, M., Michalko, J., Kostka, Z., Šanda, M. 2012b. Isotopes of oxygen-18 and deuterium in precipitation in Slovakia. Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics 60 (4), 265-276.

Holko, L., Danko, M., Dóša, M., Kostka, Z., Šanda, M., Pfister, L., Iffly, J.F. 2013. Spatial and temporal variability of stable water isotopes in snow related hydrological processes. Die Bodenkultur 64 (3-4), 39-45.

Klaus, J., McDonnell, J.J. 2013. Hydrograph separation using stable isotopes: Review and evaluation. Journal of Hydrology 505, 47-64.

Kostka, Z. 2009. Runoff response to rainfall event in the mountain catchment. Acta Hydrologica Slovaca 10 (1), 113-122.

Kostka, Z., Holko, L. 2003. Analysis of rainfall-runoff events in a mountain catchment. In Interdisciplinary approaches in small catchment hydrology: Monitoring and research. Technical Documents in Hydrology, No. 67, UNESCO, Paris, 19-25.

Kostka, Z., Holko, L. 2007. Effect of landuse change on hydrological regime in the upper Váh river catchment. Meteorologický Časopis 10, 193-197.

Krajčí, P., Danko, M., Hlavčo, J., Kostka, Z., Holko, L. 2016. Experimental measurements for improved understanding and simulation of snowmelt events in the Western Tatra Mountains. Journal of Hydroly and Hydromechanics 64 (4), 316-328.

Lyon, S.W., Desilets, S.L.E., Troch, P.A. 2009. A tale of two isotopes: differences in hydrograph separation for a runoff event when using δD versus δ18O. Hydrological Processes 23, 2095-2101.

Merlivat, L., Jouzel, J. 1979. Global climatic interpretation of the deuterium-oxygen 18 relationship for precipitation. Journal of Geophysical Research 84, 5029-5033.

Mook, W., Groeneveld, D., Brown, A., Van Ganswijk, A. 1974. Analysis of a runoff hydrograph by means of natural 18O. In: Isotope Techniques in Groundwater Hydrology. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, pp. 145-156.

Oshun, J., Dietrich, W.E., Dawson, T.E., Fung, I. 2016. Dynamic, structured heterogeneity of water isotopes inside hillslopes. Water Resources Research 52, 164-189.

Parajka, J., Holko, L., Kostka, Z., Blöschl, G. 2012. MODIS snow cover mapping accuracy in a small mountain catchment – comparison between open and forest sites. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 16, 2365-2377.

Pfahl, S., Sodemann, H. 2014. What controls deuterium excess in global precipitation? Climate of the Past 10, 771-781.

Pinder, G.F., Jones, J.F. 1969. Determination of the Ground-Water Component of Peak Discharge from the Chemistry of Total Runoff. Water Resources Research 5 (2), 438-445.

Rodhe, A. 1998. Snowmelt-Dominated Systems. In: C. Kendall, J. J. McDonnell (Eds.), Isotope tracers in catchment hydrology, Elsevier, pp. 391-433.

Sklash, M.G., Farvolden, R.N. 1979. The role of groundwater in storm runoff. Journal of Hydrology 43 (1-4), 45-65.

Wassenaar, L.I., Coplen, T.B., Aggarwal, P.K. 2013. Approaches for achieving long-term accuracy and precision of δ18O and δ2H for waters analysed using laser absorption spectrometers. Environmental Science and Technology 48, 1123-1131.


Copyright (c) 2018 L. Holko, S. Bičárová, J. Hlavčo, M. Danko, Z. Kostka

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 0211-6820

EISSN 1697-9540