Urbanisation has been associated with a reduction in the long-term correlation within a streamflow series, quantified by the Hurst exponent (H). This presents an opportunity to use the H exponent as an index for the classification of catchments on a scale from natural to urbanised conditions. However, before using the H exponent as a general index, the relationship between this exponent and level of urbanisation needs to be further examined and verified on catchments with different levels of imperviousness and from different climatic regions. In this study, the H exponent is estimated for 38 (deseasonalised) mean daily runoff time series, 22 from the USA and 16 from Australia, using the traditional rescaled-range statistic (R∕S) and the more advanced multifractal detrended fluctuation analysis (MF-DFA). Relationships between H and catchment imperviousness, catchment size, annual rainfall and specific mean discharge were investigated. No clear relationship with catchment area was found, and a weak negative relationship with annual rainfall and specific mean streamflow was found only when the R∕S method was used. Conversely, both methods showed decreasing values of H as catchment imperviousness increased. The H exponent decreased from around 1.0 for catchments in natural conditions to around 0.6 for highly urbanised catchments. Three significantly different ranges of H exponents were identified, allowing catchments to be parsed into groups with imperviousness lower than 5% (natural), catchments with imperviousness between 5 and 15% (peri-urban) and catchments with imperviousness larger than 15% (urban). The H exponent thus represents a useful metric to quantitatively assess the impact of catchment imperviousness on streamflow regime.
Read the full article in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences.