Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Tucson, Arizona » SWRC » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #258460

Title: An integrated modelling framework of catchment-scale ecohydrological processes: 2. The role of water subsidy by overland flow on vegetation dynamics in a semi-arid catchment

item NIU, G.Y. - University Of Arizona
item TROCH, P.A. - University Of Arizona
item PANICONI, C. - University Of Quebec
item Scott, Russell - Russ
item DURCIK, M. - University Of Arizona
item ZENG, X. - University Of Arizona
item HUXMAN, T.E. - University Of Arizona
item Goodrich, David - Dave
item PELLETIER, J. - University Of Arizona

Submitted to: Ecohydrology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/30/2013
Publication Date: 4/1/2014
Citation: Niu, G., Troch, P., Paniconi, C., Scott, R.L., Durcik, M., Zeng, X., Huxman, T., Goodrich, D.C., Pelletier, J. 2014. An integrated modelling framework of catchment-scale ecohydrological processes: 2. The role of water subsidy by overland flow on vegetation dynamics in a semi-arid catchment. Ecohydrology. 7:815-827.

Interpretive Summary: In dry regions, the exchange of water and carbon between the land and atmosphere is strongly governed by the amount of water in the soil. The amount of soil water may vary considerably across a landscape due to variations in terrain slope, aspect, soils, and vegetation conditions. However, many models used in climate and weather forecasting do not consider this type of soil water variation. This study examines key factors controlling soil water availability in a semiarid experimental watershed in southeastern Arizona using a model that was augmented to include and predict these variations in soil water. The model results were compared with numerous measurements and found to reproduce the observations better than a model that did not predict soil water spatial variation. Further analyses indicate that the wetter soils in lowland areas along stream channels provide plants with favorable conditions to take in more carbon and use more water in times of drought and toward the end of the summer growing season. These results indicate that it can be important for weather and climate models to include the effects of surface hydrology for certain applications.

Technical Abstract: In water-limited regions, surface water and carbon fluxes are strongly controlled by soil water availability, which may be highly variable at very small spatial scales (e.g. metres) because of variations in terrain, soils, and vegetation conditions and to processes of water redistribution along hillslopes. This second of a two-part paper first evaluates the performance of a newly developed ecohydrological model over a small semi-arid experimental catchment (7•92 ha) in southeastern Arizona. Secondly, it investigates the effects of soil properties on water subsidy resulting from lateral overland flow re-infiltration and on overall ecohydrological response. With optimized parameters, the model shows a higher ability to simulate surface energy and water fluxes than CO2 fluxes at all temporal scales. The model simulates observed CO2 fluxes fairly well at diurnal scales during the main growing seasons and the interannual variability of these fluxes in response to soil moisture variations from drought years to wet years. However, the model reproduces less well carbon assimilation in spring and positive CO2 flux pulses following early monsoon rain events, suggesting a need for further development of the model’s representations of multiple plant species and soil carbon decomposition. The model simulates soil moisture at 5 cm much better than at 15 cm mainly because of heterogeneous soil properties. Through five numerical experiments with varying saturated hydraulic conductivity values, it is revealed that the discharge at the outlet of this semi-arid catchment is essentially attributed to lateral overland flow that is generated mainly by infiltration-excess runoff. Subsurface flow plays a minor role in this semi-arid catchment with a very deep groundwater table (>100 m). The model produces wetter soils in lowland areas along stream rills and channels through re-infiltration of lateral overland flow. This water subsidy provides plants with favourable conditions to produce more leaves, CO2, and ET fluxes in lowland areas. Re-infiltration of overland flow over complex terrain may play a role in buffering climatic impacts in a warming climate with fewer but more intense rainfall events in the Southwestern United States.