Dynamic hydro-climatic networks in pristine and regulated rivers
Abstract:Flow patterns observed at-a-station are the dynamical byproduct of a cascade of processes involving different compartments of the hydro-climatic network (e.g., climate, rainfall, soil, vegetation) that regulates the transformation of rainfall into streamflows. In complex branching rivers, flow regimes result from the heterogeneous arrangement around the stream network of multiple hydrologic cascades that simultaneously occur within distinct contributing areas. As such, flow regimes are seen as the integrated output of a complex “network of networks”, which can be properly characterized by its degree of temporal variability and spatial heterogeneity.
Hydrologic networks that generate river flow regimes are dynamic in nature. In pristine rivers, the time-variance naturally emerges at multiple timescales from climate variability (namely, seasonality and inter-annual fluctuations), implying that the magnitude (and the features) of the water flow between two nodes may be highly variable across different seasons and years. Conversely, the spatial distribution of river flow regimes within pristine rivers involves scale-dependent transport features, as well as regional climatic and soil use gradients, which in small and meso-scale catchments (A < 103 km2) are usually mild enough to guarantee quite uniform flow regimes and high spatial correlations. Human-impacted rivers, instead, constitute hybrid networks where observed spatio-temporal patterns are dominated by anthropogenic shifts, such as landscape alterations and river regulation. In regulated rivers, the magnitude and the features of water flows from node to node may change significantly through time due to damming and withdrawals. However, regulation may impact river regimes in a spatially heterogeneous manner (e.g. in localized river reaches), with a significant decrease of spatial correlations and network connectivity. Provided that the spatial and temporal dynamics of flow regimes in complex rivers may strongly impact important biotic processes involved in the river food web (e.g. biofilm and riparian vegetation dynamics), the study of rivers as dynamic networks provides important clues to water management strategies and freshwater ecosystem studies.