Articles | Volume 1, issue 3
30 Sep 1997
30 Sep 1997

The Plynlimon water balance 1969-1995: the impact of forest and moorland vegetation on evaporation and streamflow in upland catchments

J. A. Hudson, S. B. Crane, and J. R. Blackie

Abstract. The Plynlimon experiment in mid-Wales, designed to determine the extent to which coniferous plantation increases evaporation losses and reduces streamflow relative to upland grassland, has now been yielding data since 1969 from the grassland Wye and the 67% forested Severn catchments. Water balance analyses of the early data indicated significantly higher evaporation rates from the forested catchment and studies of the hydrological processes involved attributed this to the high loss rates of precipitation intercepted by the forest canopy. Models based on these process studies predicted losses from the forested catchment that were similar but marginally higher than those determined by the catchment water balance.
As the data sets from the catchments increased in length and a detailed reassessment of the ratings of the streamflow gauging structures was completed the updated water balances continued to show a significantly greater evaporation loss from the forested catchment, but the gap between the forest water balance and the model predictions widened. Furthermore Hudson and Gilman (1993), using the best data sets then available, identified downward trends in the evaporation from both catchments which the models did not reproduce and for which no obvious physical or physiological explanation was forthcoming.
This dictated a major reassessment of the longer data sets, using the more powerful data processing techniques now available, to identify and eliminate any errors and inconsistencies. This paper describes the reassessment of the precipitation data and the estimates of potential evaporation and presents the water balance results emerging from the revised data sets.
The revised results indicate that the evaporation losses from the grassland Wye catchment remained broadly similar to the potential evaporation estimates throughout the 1969-1995 period. The losses from the forested area of the Severn catchment declined from a level some 61% above that of the grassland in 1972 to a level only 18% higher before the start of felling in 1985. This downward trend continued as the felling and re-planting progressed. Over the period  since 1990 the forest catchment losses appear to have stabilised at some 5-10% below those of  the grassland catchment.
Using the revised precipitation and potential evaporation data, process based models over-predict the forest catchment evaporation throughout the period and do not mirror the re-felling decline. Possible reasons for this apparent decline in evaporation rates are discussed.