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Effects of land cover change on streamflow in the interior Columbia River Basin (USA and Canada)

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Greg O'Donnell


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An analysis of the hydrological effects of vegetation changes in the Columbia River basin over the last century was performed using two land cover scenarios. The first was a reconstruction of historical land cover vegetation, c. 1900, as estimated by the federal Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP). The second was current land cover as estimated from remote sensing data for 1990. Simulations were performed using the variable infiltration capacity (VIC) hydrological model, applied at one-quarter degree spatial resolution (approximately 500 km2 grid cell area) using hydrometeorological data for a 10 year period starting in 1979, and the 1900 and current vegetation scenarios. The model represents surface hydrological fluxes and state variables, including snow accumulation and ablation, evapotranspiration, soil moisture and runoff production. Simulated daily hydrographs of naturalized streamflow (reservoir effects removed) were aggregated to monthly totals and compared for nine selected sub-basins. The results show that, hydrologically, the most important vegetation-related change has been a general tendency towards decreased vegetation maturity in the forested areas of the basin. This general trend represents a balance between the effects of logging and fire suppression. In those areas where forest maturity has been reduced as a result of logging, wintertime maximum snow accumulations, and hence snow available for runoff during the spring melt season, have tended to increase, and evapotranspiration has decreased. The reverse has occurred in areas where fire suppression has tended to increase vegetation maturity, although the logging effect appears to dominate for most of the sub-basins evaluated. Predicted streamflow changes were largest in the Mica and Corralin sub-basins in the northern and eastern headwaters region; in the Priest Rapids sub-basin, which drains the east slopes of the Cascade Mountains; and in the Ice Harbor sub-basin, which receives flows primarily from the Salmon and Clearwater Rivers of Idaho and western Montana. For these sub-basins, annual average increases in runoff ranged from 4·2 to 10·7% and decreases in evapotranspiration ranged from 3·1 to 12·1%. In comparison with previous studies of individual, smaller sized watersheds, the modelling approach used in this study provides predictions of hydrological fluxes that are spatially continuous throughout the interior Columbia River basin. It thus provides a broad-scale framework for assessing the vulnerability of watersheds to altered streamflow regimes attributable to changes in land cover that occur over large geographical areas and long time-frames.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Matheussen B, Kirschbaum RL, Goodman IA, O'Donnell GM, Lettenmaier DP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hydrological Processes

Year: 2000

Volume: 14

Issue: 5

Pages: 867-885

ISSN (print): 0885-6087

ISSN (electronic): 1099-1085

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1085(20000415)14:5<867::AID-HYP975>3.0.CO;2-5


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