Articles | Volume 16, issue 12
Research article
18 Dec 2012
Research article |  | 18 Dec 2012

Modelling canopy and litter interception in commercial forest plantations in South Africa using the Variable Storage Gash model and idealised drying curves

H. H. Bulcock and G. P. W. Jewitt

Abstract. There remains a gap in the knowledge of both canopy and litter interception processes in forest hydrology and limitations in the models used to represent them. In South Africa, interception is typically considered to constitute only a small portion of the total evaporation and in some models is disregarded. Interception is a threshold process, as a certain amount of water is required before successive processes can take place. Therefore an error or false assumption introduced in modelling interception will automatically introduce errors in the calibration of subsequent models/processes. Field experiments to assess these processes, viz. canopy and litter interception were established for the three main commercial forestry genera in South Africa, namely Pinus, Acacia and Eucalyptus, which are described in a companion paper. Drawing on both field and laboratory data, the "Variable Storage Gash" model for canopy interception and an idealised drying curve litter interception model were developed to represent these processes for South African conditions. The Variable Storage Gash model was compared with the original Gash model and it was found that it performed better than the original model in forests with high storage capacities yet was similar to the original model in stands with a low storage capacity. Thus, the models developed here were shown to adequately represent the interception processes and provide a way forward for more representative water resources planning modelling. It was found that canopy and litter interception can account for as much as 26.6% and 13.4% of gross precipitation, respectively, and are therefore important hydrological processes to consider in forested catchments in South Africa. Despite the limitation of both the Variable Storage Gash model and the idealised drying curve litter interception model being reliant on empirical relationships, their application highlights the importance of considering canopy and litter interception in water resources management and planning.