The water balance in a watershed can be disrupted by forest disturbances such as harvests and fires. Techniques to accurately and efficiently map forest cover changes due to disturbance are evolving quickly, and it is of interest to ask how useful maps of different types of disturbances over time can be in the prediction of water yield. We assessed the benefits of using land cover maps produced at annual vs. five-year intervals in the prediction of monthly streamflows across 10 watersheds contained entirely within the US National Forest System. We found that annually updating land cover maps with forest disturbance data significantly improved water yield predictions using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT; p < 0.01 improvement for both the Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency measure and the ratio of the root mean square error to the standard deviation of the measured data). Improvement related to using annually updated land cover maps was directly related to the amount of disturbance observed in a watershed. Our results lay a foundation to apply new high-resolution disturbance datasets in the field of hydrologic modeling to monitor ungauged watersheds and to explore potential water yield changes in watersheds if climate conditions or management practices were to change forest disturbance processes.
Hernandez, A.J.; Healey, S.P.; Huang, H.; Ramsey, R.D. Improved Prediction of Stream Flow Based on Updating Land Cover Maps with Remotely Sensed Forest Change Detection. Forests 2018, 9, 317.