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    Observed spatial organization of soil moisture and its relation to terrain indices
    Western, AW ; Grayson, RB ; Blöschl, G ; Willgoose, GR ; McMahon, TA (AMER GEOPHYSICAL UNION, 1999-03)
    We analyze the degree of spatial organization of soil moisture and the ability of terrain attributes to predict that organization. By organization we mean systematic spatial variation or consistent spatial patterns. We use 13 observed spatial patterns of soil moisture, each based on over 500 point measurements, from the 10.5 ha Tarrawarra experimental catchment in Australia. The measured soil moisture patterns exhibit a high degree of organization during wet periods owing to surface and subsurface lateral redistribution of water. During dry periods there is little spatial organization. The shape of the distribution function of soil moisture changes seasonally and is influenced by the presence of spatial organization. Generally, it is quite different from the shape of the distribution functions of various topographic indices. A correlation analysis found that ln(a), where a is the specific upslope area, was the best univariate spatial predictor of soil moisture for wet conditions and that the potential radiation index was best during dry periods. Combinations of ln(a) or ln(a/tan(β)), where β is the surface slope, and the potential solar radiation index explain up to 61% of the spatial variation of soil moisture during wet periods and up to 22% during dry periods. These combinations explained the majority of the topographically organized component of the spatial variability of soil moisture a posteriori. A scale analysis indicated that indices that represent terrain convergence (such as ln(a) or ln(a/tan(β))) explain variability at all scales from 10 m up to the catchment scale and indices that represent the aspect of different hillslopes (such as the potential solar radiation index) explain variability at scales from 80 m to the catchment scale. The implications of these results are discussed in terms of the organizing processes and in terms of the use of terrain attributes in hydrologic modeling and scale studies. A major limitation on the predictive power of terrain indices is the degree of spatial organization present in the soil moisture pattern at the time for which the prediction is made.