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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-11
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-2019-11
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 13 Mar 2019

Research article | 13 Mar 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf).

Computing water flow through complex landscapes, part 1: Incorporating depressions in flow routing using FlowFill

Kerry L. Callaghan1 and Andrew D. Wickert1,2 Kerry L. Callaghan and Andrew D. Wickert
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
  • 2Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

Abstract. Calculating flow routing across a landscape is a routine process in geomorphology, hydrology, planetary science, and soil and water conservation. Flow-routing calculations often require a preprocessing step to remove depressions from a DEM to create a flow-routing surface that can host a continuous, integrated drainage network. However, real landscapes contain natural depressions that trap water. These are an important part of the hydrologic system, and should be represented in flow-routing surfaces. Historically, depressions (or pits) in DEMs have been viewed as data errors, but the rapid expansion of high-resolution, high-precision DEM coverage increases the likelihood that depressions are real-world features. To address this longstanding problem of emerging significance, we developed FlowFill, an algorithm that routes a prescribed amount of runoff across the surface in order to flood depressions, but only if enough water is available. This mass-conserving approach typically floods smaller depressions and those in wet areas, integrating drainage across them, while permitting internal drainage and disruptions to hydrologic connectivity. We present results from two sample study areas to which we apply a range of uniform initial runoff depths and report the resulting filled and unfilled depressions, the drainage network structure, and the required compute time. Typical FlowFill calculations take minutes to perform and permit more realistic analyses of water flow across landscapes.

Kerry L. Callaghan and Andrew D. Wickert
Interactive discussion
Status: final response (author comments only)
Status: final response (author comments only)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Kerry L. Callaghan and Andrew D. Wickert
Model code and software

FlowFill K. L. Callaghan https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2586244

Kerry L. Callaghan and Andrew D. Wickert
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Latest update: 17 Jul 2019
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Short summary
Lakes and swales are real landscape features, but are generally treated as data errors when calculating water flow across a surface. This is a problem because depressions can store water and fragment drainage networks. Until now, there has been no good generalised approach to calculate which depressions fill and overflow, and which do not. We addressed this problem by simulating runoff flow across a landscape, selectively flooding depressions and more realistically connecting lakes and rivers.
Lakes and swales are real landscape features, but are generally treated as data errors when...
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