Articles | Volume 14, issue 12
Research article
01 Dec 2010
Research article |  | 01 Dec 2010

Confirmation of ACRU model results for applications in land use and climate change studies

M. L. Warburton, R. E. Schulze, and G. P. W. Jewitt

Abstract. The hydrological responses of a catchment are sensitive to, and strongly coupled to, land use and climate, and changes thereof. The hydrological responses to the impacts of changing land use and climate will be the result of complex interactions, where the change in one may moderate or exacerbate the effects of the other. Further difficulties in assessing these interactions are that dominant drivers of the hydrological system may vary at different spatial and temporal scales.

To assess these interactions, a process-based hydrological model, sensitive to land use and climate, and changes thereof, needs to be used. For this purpose the daily time step ACRU model was selected. However, to be able to use a hydrological model such as ACRU with confidence its representation of reality must be confirmed by comparing simulated output against observations across a range of climatic conditions. Comparison of simulated against observed streamflow was undertaken in three climatically diverse South African catchments, ranging from the semi-arid, sub-tropical Luvuvhu catchment, to the winter rainfall Upper Breede catchment and the sub-humid Mgeni catchment. Not only do the climates of the catchments differ, but their primary land uses also vary. In the upper areas of the Mgeni catchment commercial plantation forestry is dominant, while in the middle reaches there are significant areas of commercial plantation sugarcane and urban areas, while the lower reaches are dominated by urban areas. The Luvuvhu catchment has a large proportion of subsistence agriculture and informal residential areas. In the Upper Breede catchment in the Western Cape, commercial orchards and vineyards are the primary land uses.

Overall the ACRU model was able to represent the high, low and total flows, with satisfactory Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency indexes obtained for the selected catchments. The study concluded that the ACRU model can be used with confidence to simulate the streamflows of the three selected catchments and was able to represent the hydrological responses from the range of climates and diversity of land uses present within the catchments.