Classification of Ephemeral, Intermittent, and Perennial Stream Reaches Using a TOPMODEL-Based Approach

Tanja N. Williamson, Carmen T. Agouridis, Christopher D. Barton, Jonathan A. Villines, Jeremiah G. Lant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Whether a waterway is temporary or permanent influences regulatory protection guidelines, however, classification can be subjective due to a combination of factors, including time of year, antecedent moisture conditions, and previous experience of the field investigator. Our objective was to develop a standardized protocol using publically available spatial information to classify ephemeral, intermittent, and perennial streams. Our hypothesis was that field observations of flow along the stream channel could be compared to results from a hydrologic model, providing an objective method of how these stream reaches can be identified. Flow-state sensors were placed at ephemeral, intermittent, and perennial stream reaches from May to December 2011 in the Appalachian coal basin of eastern Kentucky. This observed flow record was then used to calibrate the simulated saturation deficit in each channel reach based on the topographic wetness index used by TOPMODEL. Saturation deficit values were categorized as flow or no-flow days, and the simulated record of streamflow was compared to the observed record. The hydrologic model was more accurate for simulating flow during the spring and fall seasons. However, the model effectively identified stream reaches as intermittent and perennial in each of the two basins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1739-1759
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Forest hydrology
  • Saturation deficit
  • Soil water
  • Stream delineation
  • Topographic wetness index (TWI)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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