Current understanding of hydrological processes on common urban surfaces

Thomas Redfern, Neil Macdonald, Thomas Kjeldsen, James Miller, Nick Reynard

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Understanding the rainfall-runoff behaviour of urban land surfaces is an important scientific and practical issue as storm water management policies increasingly aim to manage flood risk at local scales within urban areas whilst
controlling the quality and quantity of runoff that reaches receiving water bodies. By reviewing field measurements reported within the literature on runoff, infiltration, evaporation and storage on common urban surfaces, this study describes a complex hydrological behaviour with greater rates of infiltration than often assumed, contradicting a commonly adopted but simplified classification of the hydrological properties of urban surfaces. This shows that the term impervious surface, or impermeable surface, referring to all constructed surfaces (e.g. roads, roofs, footpaths, etc.) is inaccurate and potentially misleading. The hydrological character of urban surfaces is not stable through time, with both short (seasonal) and long term (decadal) changes in hydrological behaviour, as surfaces respond to variations in seasonal characteristics and degradation in surface condition. At present these changing factors are not widely incorporated into hydrological modelling or urban surface water management planning, with static values describing runoff and assumptions of imperviousness often used. Developing a greater understanding of the linkages between urban surfaces and hydrological behaviour will improve the representation of diverse urban landscapes within hydrological models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-713
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number5
Early online date29 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


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