Articles | Volume 17, issue 6
Research article
18 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 18 Jun 2013

Climate-vegetation-soil interactions and long-term hydrologic partitioning: signatures of catchment co-evolution

P. A. Troch, G. Carrillo, M. Sivapalan, T. Wagener, and K. Sawicz

Abstract. Budyko (1974) postulated that long-term catchment water balance is controlled to first order by the available water and energy. This leads to the interesting question of how do landscape characteristics (soils, geology, vegetation) and climate properties (precipitation, potential evaporation, number of wet and dry days) interact at the catchment scale to produce such a simple and predictable outcome of hydrological partitioning? Here we use a physically-based hydrologic model separately parameterized in 12 US catchments across a climate gradient to decouple the impact of climate and landscape properties to gain insight into the role of climate-vegetation-soil interactions in long-term hydrologic partitioning. The 12 catchment models (with different paramterizations) are subjected to the 12 different climate forcings, resulting in 144 10 yr model simulations. The results are analyzed per catchment (one catchment model subjected to 12 climates) and per climate (one climate filtered by 12 different model parameterization), and compared to water balance predictions based on Budyko's hypothesis (E/P = ϕ (Ep/P); E: evaporation, P: precipitation, Ep: potential evaporation). We find significant anti-correlation between average deviations of the evaporation index (E/P) computed per catchment vs. per climate, compared to that predicted by Budyko. Catchments that on average produce more E/P have developed in climates that on average produce less E/P, when compared to Budyko's prediction. Water and energy seasonality could not explain these observations, confirming previous results reported by Potter et al. (2005). Next, we analyze which model (i.e., landscape filter) characteristics explain the catchment's tendency to produce more or less E/P. We find that the time scale that controls subsurface storage release explains the observed trend. This time scale combines several geomorphologic and hydraulic soil properties. Catchments with relatively longer subsurface storage release time scales produce significantly more E/P. Vegetation in these catchments have longer access to this additional groundwater source and thus are less prone to water stress. Further analysis reveals that climates that give rise to more (less) E/P are associated with catchments that have vegetation with less (more) efficient water use parameters. In particular, the climates with tendency to produce more E/P have catchments that have lower % root fraction and less light use efficiency. Our results suggest that their exists strong interactions between climate, vegetation and soil properties that lead to specific hydrologic partitioning at the catchment scale. This co-evolution of catchment vegetation and soils with climate needs to be further explored to improve our capabilities to predict hydrologic partitioning in ungauged basins.