Simulated watershed responses to land cover changes using the Regional Hydro-Ecological Simulation System

I. N. Mohammed
David G. Tarboton, Utah State University


In this work, we used the Regional Hydro-Ecological Simulation System (RHESSys) model to examine runoff sensitivity to land cover changes in a mountain environment. Two independent experiments were evaluated where we conducted simulations with multiple vegetation cover changes that include conversion to grass, no vegetation cover and deciduous/coniferous cover scenarios. The model experiments were performed at two hillslopes within the Weber River near Oakley, Utah watershed (USGS gauge # 10128500). Daily precipitation, air temperature and wind speed data as well as spatial data that include a digital elevation model with 30 m grid resolution, soil texture map and vegetation and land use maps were processed to drive RHESSys simulations. Observed runoff data at the watershed outlet were used for calibration and verification. Our runoff sensitivity results suggest that during winter, reduced leaf area index (LAI) decreases canopy interception resulting in increased snow accumulations and hence snow available for runoff during the early spring melt season. Increased LAI during the spring melt season tends to delay the snow melting process. This delay in snow melting process is due to reduced radiation beneath high LAI surfaces relative to low LAI surfaces. The model results suggest that annual runoff yield after removing deciduous vegetation is on average about 7% higher than with deciduous vegetation cover, while annual runoff yield after removing coniferous vegetation is on average as about 2% higher than that produced with coniferous vegetation cover. These simulations thus help quantify the sensitivity of water yield to vegetation change.