Many investigations show relationships between topographical factors and the spatial distribution of soil moisture in catchments. However, few quantitative analyses have been carried out to elucidate the role of different hydrological processes in the spatial distribution of topsoil moisture in catchments. A spatially distributed rainfall-runoff model was used to investigate contributions of subsurface matric flow, macropore flow and surface runoff to the spatial distribution of soil moisture in a cultivated catchment. The model results show that lateral subsurface flow in the soil matrix or in macropores has a minor effect on the spatial distribution of soil moisture. Only when a perched groundwater table is maintained long enough, which is only possible if the subsurface is completely impermeable, may a spatial distribution in moisture content occur along the slope. Surface runoff, producing accumulations of soil moisture in flat flow paths of agricultural origin (field boundaries), was demonstrated to cause significant spatial variations in soil moisture within a short period after rainfall (〈2 days). When significant amounts of surface runoff are produced, wetter moisture conditions will be generated at locations with larger upstream contributing areas. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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