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Chapter 3

Surface Water Hydrology

Prof. Dr. Ali El-Naqa
Hashemite University
June 2013

Chapter 3: Surface Water

What is Surface Water Hydrology?
Overland Flow
Sediment Transport and Deposition
Water Measurement
Flood Events

Figure 3.1 Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by the similarities between the
organization of rivers on the surface of the Earth and the human circulatory

What is Surface Water

The study of moving water found in rivers, open

channels, lakes, and runoff across the open land

Important for transportation, irrigation, water
supply, hydropower, etc.
Related topics:
Ground water (below the surface)
Marine water (in the oceans)
Icecaps and glaciers

The total land area that drains to a common

Also called a river basin, drainage basin, or
The watershed is delineated by finding the
watershed divide, or ridge, that separates the
watershed from its neighbors

Figure 3.2 Mississippi River Watershed

Figure 3.5 The Mississippi River is the third largest drainage basin in the
world, exceeded in size only by the watersheds of the Amazon River in South
America and the Zaire River in Africa.

Figure 3.3 Hills, valleys, and slopes of a topographic map.

Topographic Maps:
Used to show slope, elevation, distance, and physical features

Used to relate the distance on the map to the true distance.
1 map inch = 12,000 true inches = 2000 true feet

Contour Line:
Used to show points of similar elevation.
1000 foot contour line is a constant elevation above sea level

Contour Interval:
The distance between contour lines. A 20 foot contour interval

has contours every 20 feet, i.e., 980, 1000, 1020, etc.

The steepness of the ground
A 1% slope is where the surface drops 1 foot every 100 feet.

The direction that the slope faces, North, South, East, West, etc.

Three Simple Rules

Surface water generally flows at right angles

(perpendicular) across contour lines

Ridges are indicated by the highest elevation
contour line
Drainages are indicated by contour lines
pointing downstream


Overland Flow
Rain falls onto vegetation, and then to

the ground.
Interception is lost in the vegetation
Throughfall makes it to the ground
Stemflow runs down the vegetation

Water reaching the ground can:

Accumulate in depressions
Soak into the ground (infiltration)
Flow across the surface as overland flow

Components of a River
Headwaters: the source of the river
Tributaries: smaller streams that combine at a
Upstream vs. Downstream: related to the
flow direction
Thalveg: Main part of river channel
Hyporheic Zone: Shallow ground-water flow
below the river bed

River Morphology:
Young, V shaped valleys
Older, U shaped valleys
Oldest, meandering channels with oxbow
Braided channels with lots of sediment
Channels are choked with sediments
Below glacial terrain
In wetlands where there is very low gradient

Figure 3.4 Changes in stream properties along a watershed.

Types of Rivers
Ephemeral: flows only during storms
Intermittent: flows seasonally
Losing stream: loses flow to groundwater
Gaining stream: gains water from the

Gradient: the slope or fall of the river,
usually decreases as the river gets larger.

Figure 3.6 Cross section of a gaining (or effluent) stream, common in

humid regions, and a losing (or influent) stream, often found in arid or
semiarid locations.

Table 3.2 Largest Lakes in the World

Any body of water (other than an ocean) that is

of reasonable size, impounds water, and moves

very slowly
Types of lakes:
cirques: formed in mountains by glaciers
pluvial: formed in deserts
kettles: formed by buried glacial ice that melted

Lake productivity
oligotrophic: very low productivity, clear
eutrophic: very high productivity, green

Ecologic Zones
littoral: along the shoreline
limnetic: near the surface in the deeper parts
profundal: near the bottom in the deeper parts

Thermal Cycles
epiliminion: near the surface, warm in summer
hypolimnion: near the bottom, cold in summer
thermocline: boundary between epi- and hypolimnion
lake turnover: in fall when epi- and hypolimnion mix

Wind driven water level fluctuations

Figure 3.8 Seasonal layering and turnover in a lake at mid-latitudes.

Figure 3.9 Rivers have a profound effect on landforms.

Sediment Transport and

This refers to soil carried by water and then

deposited in low energy environments.

The heavy sediments (sands) fall out along the
river banks, forming levees
Finer materials (clays and silts) fall out in flood
Yazoo rivers parallel the main river
A delta forms where the sediment chokes the
main channel - often in braided rivers.

High energy streams have high velocities
Higher velocities can carry more, and larger particles
Sorting occurs when large particles are left behind,

and small particles are carried away

Sediment Load
The total material carried, composed of:

Suspended load: fine materials carried as particles

Dissolved load: materials that are in solution
Bedload: larger materials carried along the bottom

Sediment Yield: The load per unit area

Figure 3.11 Steep gradients and high water velocity are great combinations
for moving boulders, sediment, and kayakers.

Water Measurement
Rational Formula
Q = C i A
Q is the peak runoff rate, cfs
C is the runoff coefficient
Urban areas, C = 0.9
Industrial areas, C = 0.8
Residential areas, C = 0.6
Forested areas, C = 0.1

i is the rainfall intensity, in/hr

A is the watershed area, acres

River Discharge
Discharge is the flow of water
Measured in units of cubic feet per minute, or cfs
The metric equivalent is liters per second, or Lps

We find the discharge, Q, by taking the product

of the velocity, v, and the area, A:

Q = V A
Example, if the width of the channel is ten feet, the

depth is one foot, and the velocity is two feet per

second, then

A = 10 ft x 1 ft = 10 ft2
Q = 2 ft/s x 10 ft2 = 20 cfs

Figure 3.10 One cubic foot per second, or cfs (or one cubic meter per
second, or cms) is equivalent to one cubic foot (or meter) of water flowing past
a given point in a one-second time interval.

The water velocity is found using a flowmeter,

which looks like an anemometer:

Figure 3.13 The hydrograph of a river can look similar to this example after
a brief but intense rainfall event.

To make things easy, we use a staff

gage (or ruler) to measure the river

stage (how high the river is.
We use a rating curve to relate the
discharge to the river stage.

Water Storage in Lakes and


We normally measure large volumes of water

in units of Acre-Feet
1 acre-foot is the volume of water that covers one

acre to a depth of one foot

Lake Lanier, when full, has 2,000,000 acre-feet of
water. It covers 40,000 acres with an average depth
of 50 feet.

We keep track of the volume using the stage-

capacity curve:
The storage goes down as the water level, or stage,

goes down

Flood Events
Flood frequency:
the likelihood that a large flood will happen

100-year flood:
flood that is exceeded - on average - once every 100

years, the probability in 1 year is 1/100 = 1 %

10-year flood:
probability = 10 %

Mean annual flood:

exceeded once every two years, probability = 50%

Figure 3.15 Flood damage can be predicted based on the intensity of a

storm and the topography of a region.

Extreme Events
Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP)
The most extreme rainfall possible
Used for estimating the effects of extreme


Probable Maximum Flood (PMF)

The most extreme flood possible
Used for estimating maximum extent of


GIS Mapping
Geographic Information Systems (GIS):
Used to organize spatial information
Various properties are stored in the computer
GIS layers include topography, soils,
hydrography, vegetation, land use, etc.

Figure 3.16 A GIS map display showing the schools in a town. Notice that a
query of Elmar High School was made, and the corresponding attribute data
and digital image are shown.

Figure 3.17 Streams, lakes and medical facilities are added to the original
map display.

Figure 3.19 With the Q100 layer added to the map display, it is easy to see
that Edwards Elementary is the only school in the 100-year floodplain.

Quiz 3
If the Oconee River is flowing at a rate of 1000 ft3/s, how long would it take

to fill this room?

Use the tape measure provided to measure the length, width, and height of the

room, and calculate the volume, in cubic feet. [Use L = 60, W = 100, H = 12]
Calculate the time by dividing the volume (ft3) by the flow rate (ft3/s), giving you
the time, in seconds.

Delineate (draw the boundary around) the Oconee River Watershed using

the map found at:

True - False Questions:
[T / F] Overland flow is more likely in forested watersheds because it rains harder
[T / F] Urban areas have higher runoff peaks than agricultural areas
[T / F] Sand is easier for rivers to carry than clays
[T / F] A 100-year flood has a 1 percent chance of happening in any one year
[T / F] The Probable Maximum Precipitation is the largest observed rain in a year.

If Athens is located 300 river miles from the coast, and the river flows at a

rate of 3 miles per hour, how long will it take the water to reach the ocean?
For the previous problem, what would happen if there is a lake between
Athens and the coast?