Are the effects of vegetation and soil changes as important as climatechange impacts on hydrological processes?

Kabir Rasouli, John W. Pomeroy, Paul H. Whitfield

Abstract. Hydrological processes are widely understood to be sensitive to changes in climate, but the effects of changes in vegetation and soils have seldom been considered. The response of mountain hydrology to future climate and vegetation/soil changes is modelled in three snowmelt dominated mountain basins in the North American Cordillera. A Cold Regions Hydrological Model developed for each basin was driven with perturbed observed meteorological time series. Monthly perturbations were developed from differences in eleven regional climate model outputs between the present and future scenarios. Future climate change in these basins results in decreased modelled peak snow water equivalent (SWE) but increased evapotranspiration in all basins. All three watersheds became more rainfall-dominated. In Wolf Creek in the Yukon Territory, an insignificant increasing effect of vegetation change on peak SWE was found to be important enough to offset the significant climate change effect on alpine snow. In Marmot Creek in the Canadian Rockies, a combined effect of soil and climate changes on increasing annual runoff becomes significant while their individual effects are not statistically significant. In the relatively warmer Reynolds Mountain East catchment in Idaho, USA, only vegetation change decreases annual runoff volume and changes in soil, climate, or combination of them do not affect runoff. At high elevations in Wolf and Marmot Creeks, modelled vegetation/soil changes moderated the impact of climate change on peak SWE, the timing of peak SWE, evapotranspiration, and annual runoff volume. At medium elevations, these changes intensified the impact of climate change, decreasing peak SWE, and sublimation. The modelled hydrological impacts of changes in climate, vegetation, and soil in mountain environments are similar in magnitude but not consistently in the direction in all biomes; in some combinations, this results in enhanced impacts at lower elevations and latitudes and offsetting effects at higher elevations and latitudes.
Kabir Rasouli, John W. Pomeroy, and Paul H. Whitfield. 2019. Are the effects of vegetation and soil changes as important as climatechange impacts on hydrological processes?.
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