Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Dr. David G. Tarboton


Land cover and climate change with their associated impacts on runoff are among the pressing areas of research within the western United States. In the first paper of this dissertation, we identified a total of 39 watersheds draining to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamflow gauges, chosen either from the USGS Hydroclimatic Climatic Data Network of gauges that are minimally impacted by anthropogenic alterations, or because they have long, relatively continuous streamflow records and are representative of large areas within the study region in Utah. In each of these watersheds we examined trends in precipitation, temperature, snow, streamflow and runoff ratio as well as land use and land cover information. In addition, we developed a water balance model to quantify the sensitivity of runoff to changes in vegetation based on differences in evapotranspiration from different land cover types.

The second paper addressed runoff sensitivity to land cover changes in a spatially explicit way by performing detailed simulations using a Regional Hydro Ecological Simulation System (RHESSys) model applied to the Weber River near Oakley watershed (USGS gauge # 10128500). Our runoff sensitivity results suggest that during winter reduced Leaf Area Index (LAI) decreases canopy interception, which tends to increase snow accumulations, and hence snow available for runoff during the early spring melt season. Increased LAI during spring melt season tends to delay the snow melting process due to reduced radiation beneath high LAI surfaces relative to low LAI surfaces.

The last paper examined the sensitivity of the Great Salt Lake level to changes in streamflow input or changes in climate that manifest as changes in air temperatures over the lake. We quantified this sensitivity by examining an elasticity measure defined as the ratio of the variability of streamflow, precipitation, evaporation, area and salinity to the variability in historic volume changes. We also developed a mass balance model to simulate lake level and volume driven by stochastic precipitation, streamflow and climate inputs. We showed that fluctuation in streamflow is the dominant factor in lake level fluctuations, but that fluctuations in lake area, which modulates evaporation and precipitation directly on the lake, are also important.


This work made publicly available electronically on April 10, 2012.