This paper sub-samples four 35 year water quality time series to consider the potential influence of short-term hydrological variability on process inference derived from short-term monitoring data. The data comprise two time series for nitrate (NO3-N) and two for DOC (using water colour as a surrogate). The four catchments were selected not only because of their long records, but also because the four catchments are very different: upland and lowland, agricultural and non-agricultural. Multiple linear regression is used to identify the trend and effects of rainfall and hydrological ‘memory effects’ over the full 35 years, and then a moving-window technique is used to subsample the series, using window widths of between 6 and 20 years. The results suggest that analyses of periods between six and eleven years are more influenced by local hydrological variability and therefore provide misleading results about long-term trends, whereas periods of longer than twelve years tend to be more representative of underlying system behaviour. This is significant: if such methods for analysing monitoring data were used to validate changes in catchment management, a monitoring period of less than 12 years might be insufficient to demonstrate change in the underlying system.
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