Terrestrial Water Balances in the Face of Variable Climate over 49 years in Southern Michigan

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Stephen K Hamilton, Michigan State Univ, Hickory Corners, MI, United States and Mir Zaman Hussain, Michigan State University, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, East Lansing, MI, United States
The difference between precipitation and stream discharge over annual periods provides an indication of the total water loss to evaporation and evapotranspiration. The response of evaporative water loss to climate variability and change affects groundwater recharge, stream flow, and lake levels, and is a topic of ongoing debate in the upper Midwest US region and elsewhere. This study examined the watershed water balance for Augusta Creek, which drains a 95-km2 glacial landscape in southwestern Michigan covered by cropland, grassland, forest, and wetlands. The climate is humid and temperate; between 1964-2012 the water-year precipitation averaged 947 mm and ranged from 695-1386 mm. Comparison of precipitation on the upland watershed to baseflow discharge (USGS data; baseflow estimation by WHAT model) across the 49-year record shows that total evaporative water loss averaged 562 +/- 104 mm and ranged from 385-897 mm, with no apparent trend over the record. The evaporative water loss accounts for a mean (s.d.) of 59 +/- 6% of precipitation (range, 48-70%). Evaporative water loss was positively related to total precipitation (r2 = 0.73), but the percentage of precipitation lost to evaporation was only weakly (r2 = 0.12) related to total precipitation. This water balance approach to infer evaporative water loss compares well with direct measurements in the same watershed since 2009 using eddy covariance (grasslands and crops) and soil moisture monitoring by time-domain reflectometry (grasslands, crops, and forest). Thus the evaporative water loss, which is predominantly by evapotranspiration, is linearly related to total precipitation, leaving a relatively consistent proportion for groundwater recharge and streamflow.