Hillslope scale hydrologic spatial patterns in a patchy Ponderosa pine landscape: insights from distributed hydrologic modeling
Ponderosa pine forests are a dominant land cover type in semiarid montane areas. Water supplies in major rivers of the southwestern United States depend on ponderosa pine forests since these ecosystems: (1) receive a significant amount of rainfall and snowfall, (2) intercept precipitation and transpire water, and (3) indirectly influence runoff by impacting the infiltration rate. However, the hydrologic patterns in these ecosystems with strong seasonality are poorly understood. In this study, we used a distributed hydrologic model evaluated against field observations to improve our understandings on spatial controls of hydrologic patterns, appropriate model resolution to simulate ponderosa pine ecosystems and hydrologic responses in the context of contrasting winter to summer transitions. Our modeling effort is focused on the hydrologic responses during the North American Monsoon (NAM), winter and spring periods. In Chapter 2, we utilized a distributed model explore the spatial controls on simulated soil moisture and temporal evolution of these spatial controls as a function of seasonal wetness. Our findings indicate that vegetation and topographic curvature are spatial controls. Vegetation controlled patterns during dry summer period switch to fine-scale terrain curvature controlled patterns during persistently wet NAM period. Thus, a climatic threshold involving rainfall and weather conditions during the NAM is identified when high rainfall amount (such as 146 mm rain in August, 1997) activates lateral flux of soil moisture and frequent cloudy cover (such as 42% cloud cover during daytime of August, 1997) lowers evapotranspiration. In Chapter 3, we investigate the impacts of model coarsening on simulated soil moisture patterns during the NAM. Results indicate that model aggregation quickly eradicates curvature features and its spatial control on hydrologic patterns. A threshold resolution of ~10% of the original terrain is identified through analyses of homogeneity indices, correlation coefficients and spatial errors beyond which the fidelity of simulated soil moisture is no longer reliable. Based on spatial error analyses, we detected that the concave areas (~28% of hillslope) are very sensitive to model coarsening and root mean square error (RMSE) is higher than residual soil moisture content (~0.07 m3/m3 soil moisture) for concave areas. Thus, concave areas need to be sampled for capturing appropriate hillslope response for this hillslope. In Chapter 4, we investigate the impacts of contrasting winter to summer transitions on hillslope hydrologic responses. We use a distributed hydrologic model to generate a consistent set of high-resolution hydrologic estimates. Our model is evaluated against the snow depth, soil moisture and runoff observations over two water years yielding reliable spatial distributions during the winter to summer transitions. We find that a wet winter followed by a dry summer promotes evapotranspiration losses (spatial averaged ~193 mm spring ET and ~ 600 mm summer ET) that dry the soil and disconnect lateral fluxes in the forested hillslope, leading to soil moisture patterns resembling vegetation patches. Conversely, a dry winter prior to a wet summer results in soil moisture increases due to high rainfall and low ET during the spring (spatially averaged 78 mm ET and 232 mm rainfall) and summer period (spatially averaged 147 mm ET and 247 mm rainfall) which promote lateral connectivity and soil moisture patterns with the signature of terrain curvature. An opposing temporal switch between infiltration and saturation excess runoff is also identified. These contrasting responses indicate that the inverse relation has significant consequences on hillslope water availability and its spatial distribution with implications on other ecohydrological processes including vegetation phenology, groundwater recharge and geomorphic development. Results from this work have implications on the design of hillslope experiments, the resolution of hillslope scale models, and the prediction of hydrologic conditions in ponderosa pine ecosystems. In addition, our findings can be used to select future hillslope sites for detailed ecohydrological investigations. Further, the proposed methodology can be useful for predicting responses to climate and land cover changes that are anticipated for the southwestern United States.