Geographically Isolated Wetlands and Catchment Hydrology: A Modified Model Analyses
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Geographically isolated wetlands (GIWs), typically defined as depressional wetlands surrounded by uplands, support an array of hydrological and ecological processes. However, key research questions concerning the hydrological connectivity of GIWs and their impacts on downgradient surface waters remain unanswered. This is particularly important for regulation and management of these systems. For example, in the past decade United States Supreme Court decisions suggest that GIWs can be afforded protection if significant connectivity exists between these waters and traditional navigable waters. Here we developed a simulation procedure to quantify the effects of various spatial distributions of GIWs across the landscape on the downgradient hydrograph using a refined version of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), a catchment-scale hydrological simulation model. We modified the SWAT FORTRAN source code and employed an alternative hydrologic response unit (HRU) definition to facilitate an improved representation of GIW hydrologic processes and connectivity relationships to other surface waters, and to quantify their downgradient hydrological effects. We applied the modified SWAT model to an ~ 202 km2 catchment in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, USA, exhibiting a substantial population of mapped GIWs. Results from our series of GIW distribution scenarios suggest that: (1) Our representation of GIWs within SWAT conforms to field-based characterizations of regional GIWs in most respects; (2) GIWs exhibit substantial seasonally-dependent effects upon downgradient base flow; (3) GIWs mitigate peak flows, particularly following high rainfall events; and (4) The presence of GIWs on the landscape impacts the catchment water balance (e.g., by increasing groundwater outflows). Our outcomes support the hypothesis that GIWs have an important catchment-scale effect on downgradient streamflow.