Controls on snowmelt water mean transit times in northern boreal catchments

Steve W. Lyon, Hjalmar Laudon, Jan Seibert, Magnus Mörth, Doerthe Tetzlaff, Kevin H. Bishop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Catchment-scale transit times for water are increasingly being recognized as an important control on geochemical processes. In this study, snowmelt water mean transit times (MTTs) were estimated for the 15 Krycklan research catchments in northern boreal Sweden. The snowmelt water MTTs were assumed to be representative of the catchment-scale hydrologic response during the spring thaw period and, as such, may be considered to be a component of the catchment's overall MTT. These snowmelt water MTTs were empirically related to catchment characteristics and landscape structure represented by using different indices of soil cover, topography and catchment similarity. Mire wetlands were shown to be significantly correlated to snowmelt MTTs for the studied catchments. In these wetlands, shallow ice layers form that have been shown to serve as impervious boundaries to vertical infiltration during snowmelt periods and, thus, alter the flow pathways of water in the landscape. Using a simple thought experiment, we could estimate the potential effect of thawing of ice layers on snowmelt hydrologic response using the empirical relationship between landscape structure (represented using a catchment-scale Pe number) and hydrologic response. The result of this thought experiment was that there could be a potential increase of 20-45% in catchment snowmelt water MTTs for the Krycklan experimental catchments. It is therefore possible that climatic changes present competing influences on the hydrologic response of northern boreal catchments that need to be considered. For example, MTTs may tend to decrease during some times of the year due to an acceleration in the hydrologic cycle, while they tend to increase MTTs during other times of the year due to shifts in hydrologic flow pathways. The balance between the competing influences on a catchment's MTT has consequences on climatic feedbacks as it could influence hydrological and biogeochemical cycles at the catchment scale for northern latitude boreal catchments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1672-1684
Number of pages13
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number12
Early online date8 Jan 2010
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2010


  • mean transit time
  • catchment similarity
  • boreal systems
  • climate change
  • wetlands
  • snowmelt
  • residence time
  • landscape characteristics
  • runoff generation
  • alpine catchment
  • river discharge
  • flow
  • hydrology
  • scale
  • hillslope
  • models


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