Hydrograph separation using tracers and digital filters to quantify runoff components in a semi-arid mesoscale catchment

Aline Maraci Lopes Saraiva Okello*, Stefan Uhlenbrook, Graham P.W. Jewitt, Ilyas Masih, Edward Sebastian Riddell, Pieter Van der Zaag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Chemical hydrograph separation using electrical conductivity and digital filters is applied to quantify runoff components in the 1,640 km2 semi-arid Kaap River catchment and its subcatchments in South Africa. A rich data set of weekly to monthly water quality data ranging from 1978 to 2012 (450 to 940 samples per site) was analysed at 4 sampling locations in the catchment. The data were routinely collected by South Africa's national Department of Water and Sanitation, using standard sampling procedures. Chemical hydrograph separation using electrical conductivity (EC) as a tracer was used as reference and a recursive digital filter was then calibrated for the catchment. Results of the two-component hydrograph separation indicate the dominance of baseflow in the low flow regime, with a contribution of about 90% of total flow; however, during the wet season, baseflow accounts for 50% of total flow. The digital filter parameters were very sensitive and required calibration, using chemical hydrograph separation as a reference. Calibrated baseflow estimates ranged from 40% of total flow at the catchment outlet to 70% in the tributaries. The study demonstrates that routinely monitored water quality data, especially EC, can be used as a meaningful tracer, which could also aid in the calibration of a digital filter method and reduce uncertainty of estimated flow components. This information enhances our understanding of how baseflow is generated and contributed to streamflow throughout the year, which can aid in quantification of environmental flows, as well as to better parameterize hydrological models used for water resources planning and management. Baseflow estimates can also be useful for groundwater and water quality management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1334-1350
Number of pages17
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2018


  • digital filters
  • hydrograph separation
  • runoff generation
  • semi-arid catchment
  • Southern Africa
  • tracers


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