Co-evolution of Climate, Soil, and Vegetation and their interplay with Hydrological Partitioning at the Catchment Scale

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Xavier Zapata-Rios1, Paul D Brooks1,2, Peter A A Troch1,3 and Jennifer C McIntosh1, (1)University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States, (2)University of Utah, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, Salt Lake City, UT, United States, (3)Biosphere2, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States
Landscape, climate, and vegetation interactions play a fundamental role in controlling the distribution of available water in hillslopes and catchments. In mid-latitudes, terrain aspect can regulate surface and subsurface hydrological processes, which not only affect the partitioning of energy and precipitation on short time scales, but also soil development, vegetation characteristics on long time scales. In Redondo Peak in northern New Mexico, a volcanic resurgent dome, first order streams drain different slopes around the mountain. In this setting, we study three adjacent first order catchments that share similar physical characteristics, but drain different aspects, allowing for an empirical study of how topographically controlled microclimate and soil influence the integrated hydrological and vegetation response. From 2008 to 2012, catchments were compared for the way they partition precipitation and how vegetation responds to variable water fluxes. Meteorological variables were monitored in 5 stations around Redondo Peak and surface runoff was monitored at the catchments’ outlets. Hydrological partitioning at the catchment scale was estimated with the Horton Index, defined as the ratio between vaporization and wetting and it represents a measure of catchment-scale vegetation water use. Vegetation response was estimated using remotely sensed vegetation greenness (NDVI) derived from MODIS every 16 days with a spatial resolution of 250 m. Results show that the predominantly north facing catchment has the largest and least variable baseflow and discharge, consistent with greater mineral weathering fluxes and longer water transit times. In addition, vaporization, wetting and Horton Index, as well as NDVI, are smaller in the north facing catchment compared to the south east facing catchments. The predominant terrain aspect controls soil development, which affects the partitioning of precipitation and vegetation response at the catchment scale. These results also demonstrate how landscape evolution (e.g. depth of weathering profile) can affect various hydrologic processes, including streamflow response to precipitation and water residence time. In turn these processes are first-order controls on the sensitivity of the landscape to land use and climate change.