What are the Ingredients of a Scientifically and Policy-Relevant Hydrologic Connectivity Metric?

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 10:20 AM
Genevieve Ali1,2, Carolyn English1, Greg McCullough2 and Mike Stainton3, (1)University of Manitoba, Department of Geological Sciences, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, (2)University of Manitoba, Center for Earth Observation Science, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, (3)Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
While the concept of hydrologic connectivity is of significant importance to both researchers and policy makers, there is no consensus on how to express it in quantitative terms. This lack of consensus was further exacerbated by recent rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court that rely on the idea of “significant nexuses”: critical degrees of landscape connectivity now have to be demonstrated to warrant environmental protection under the Clean Water Act. Several indicators of connectivity have been suggested in the literature, but they are often computationally intensive and require soil water content information, a requirement that makes them inapplicable over large, data-poor areas for which management decisions are needed. Here our objective was to assess the extent to which the concept of connectivity could become more operational by: 1) drafting a list of potential, watershed-scale connectivity metrics; 2) establishing a list of criteria for ranking the performance of those metrics; 3) testing them in various landscapes. Our focus was on a dozen agricultural Prairie watersheds where the interaction between near-level topography, perennial and intermittent streams, pothole wetlands and man-made drains renders the estimation of connectivity difficult. A simple procedure was used to convert RADARSAT images, collected between 1997 and 2011, into binary maps of saturated versus non-saturated areas. Several pattern-based and graph-theoretic metrics were then computed for a dynamic assessment of connectivity. The metrics performance was compared with regards to their sensitivity to antecedent precipitation, their correlation with watershed discharge, and their ability to portray aggregation effects. Results show that no single connectivity metric could satisfy all our performance criteria. Graph-theoretic metrics however seemed to perform better in pothole-dominated watersheds, thus highlighting the need for region-specific connectivity assessment frameworks.