The effects of land use change on the occurrence and frequency of preferential flow (fast water flow through a small fraction of the pore space) and piston flow (slower water flow through a large fraction of the pore space) are still not fully understood. In this study, we used a five year high resolution soil moisture monitoring dataset in combination with a response time analysis to identify factors that control preferential and piston flow before and after partial deforestation in a small headwater catchment. The sensor response times at 5, 20 and 50 cm depths were classified into one of four classes: (1) non-sequential preferential flow, (2) velocity based preferential flow, (3) sequential (piston) flow, and (4) no response. The results of this analysis showed that partial deforestation increased sequential flow occurrence and decreased the occurrence of no flow in the deforested area. Similar precipitation conditions (total precipitation) after deforestation caused more sequential flow in the deforested area, which was attributed to higher antecedent moisture conditions and the lack of interception. At the same time, an increase in preferential flow occurrence was also observed for events with identical total precipitation. However, as the events in the treatment period (after deforestation) generally had lower total, maximum, and mean precipitation, this effect was not observed in the overall occurrence of preferential flow. The results of this analysis demonstrate that the combination of a sensor response time analysis and a soil moisture dataset that includes pre- and post-deforestation conditions can offer new insights in preferential and sequential flow conditions after land use change.
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