Impacts of insect-related forest mortality on hydrologic partitioning and forest productivity in the Southern Rocky Mountains, USA

Friday, 19 December 2014: 8:45 AM
Noah P Molotch, University of Colorado at Boulder, Geography / INSTAAR, Boulder, CO, United States; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Recent large-scale changes in forest cover over Western North America associated with insect-related forest mortality may have widespread impacts on water availability. These changes have potentially varied impacts on water availability as forest mortality influences rates of snow accumulation, snowmelt, and evapotranspiration. These changes may significantly alter runoff production and gross primary productivity in mountain forests. Analysis of remotely sensed vegetation greenness data indicate strong forest and understory growth dependencies associated with snow accumulation and snowmelt with peak snow water equivalent explaining 40-50% of inter-annual greenness variability in the Rocky Mountains. Examples of these dependencies will be presented based on the 2012 drought in the Southwestern US whereby near record low snow accumulation and record high potential evapotranspiration have resulted in record low forest greening as evident in the 30+ year satellite record. Forest response to aridity in 2012 was exacerbated by forest disturbance with greenness anomalies 90% greater in magnitude in Bark Beetle and Spruce Budworm affected areas versus undisturbed areas and 182% greater in magnitude in areas impacted by fire. Growing season length was inversely proportional to peak greenness with record high Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values in April (14% above average) corresponding with record low NDVI values in July (7% below average). Gross primary productivity (GPP) estimates from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and from the Niwot Ridge, Colorado Ameriflux tower indicate record high April GPP (30% and 90% above average for MODIS and the tower, respectively) correspodning with record low July GPP (19% and 30% below average, respectively). Differences in these energy, water, ecosystem relationships among difference distrurbance regimes indicate that the sensitivity of ecosystems to changes in climate is heavily dependent on snowpack processes. Given potential future changes in land cover of mountainous regions, the results of these measurements may identify tipping points regarding hydrologic sensitivities across gradients in physiography / local climatology.