Modeling Rainfall-Runoff Dynamics in Tropical, Urban Socio-Hydrological Systems: Green Infrastructure and Variable Precipitation Interception

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Christopher J. Nytch, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, Environmental Sciences, San Juan, PR, United States and Elvia J. Meléndez-Ackerman, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, San Juan, PR, United States
There is a pressing need to generate spatially-explicit models of rainfall-runoff dynamics in the urban humid tropics that can characterize flow pathways and flood magnitudes in response to erratic precipitation events. To effectively simulate stormwater runoff processes at multiple scales, complex spatio-temporal parameters such as rainfall, evapotranspiration, and antecedent soil moisture conditions must be accurately represented, in addition to uniquely urban factors including stormwater conveyance structures and connectivity between green and gray infrastructure elements. In heavily urbanized San Juan, Puerto Rico, stream flashiness and frequent flooding are major issues, yet still lacking is a hydrological analysis that models the generation and movement of fluvial and pluvial stormwater through the watershed. Our research employs a novel and multifaceted approach to dealing with this problem that integrates 1) field-based rainfall interception and infiltration methodologies to quantify the hydrologic functions of natural and built infrastructure in San Juan; 2) remote sensing analysis to produce a fine-scale typology of green and gray cover types in the city and determine patterns of spatial distribution and connectivity; 3) assessment of precipitation and streamflow variability at local and basin-wide scales using satellite and radar precipitation estimates in concert with rainfall and stream gauge point data and participatory flood mapping; 4) simulation of historical, present-day, and future stormwater runoff scenarios with a fully distributed hydrologic model that couples diverse components of urban socio-hydrological systems from formal and informal knowledge sources; and 5) bias and uncertainty analysis of parameters and model structure within a Bayesian hierarchical framework. Preliminary results from the rainfall interception study suggest that canopy structure and leaf area index of different tree species contribute to variable throughfall and stemflow responses. Additional investigations are pending. The findings from this work will help inform urban planning and design, and build adaptive capacity to reduce flood vulnerability in the context of a changing climate.