Articles | Volume 17, issue 11
Research article
21 Nov 2013
Research article |  | 21 Nov 2013

Comparative analysis of hydrologic signatures in two agricultural watersheds in east-central Illinois: legacies of the past to inform the future

M. A. Yaeger, M. Sivapalan, G. F. McIsaac, and X. Cai

Abstract. Historically, the central Midwestern US has undergone drastic anthropogenic land use change, having been transformed, in part through government policy, from a natural grassland system to an artificially drained agricultural system devoted to row cropping corn and soybeans. Current federal policies are again influencing land use in this region with increased corn acreage and new biomass crops proposed as part of an energy initiative emphasizing biofuels. To better address these present and future challenges it is helpful to understand whether and how the legacies of past changes have shaped the current response of the system. To this end, a comparative analysis of the hydrologic signatures in both spatial and time series data from two central Illinois watersheds was undertaken. The past history of these catchments is reflected in their current hydrologic responses, which are highly heterogeneous due to differences in geologic history, artificial drainage patterns, and reservoir operation, and manifest temporally, from annual to daily timescales, and spatially, both within and between the watersheds. These differences are also apparent from analysis of the summer low flows, where the more tile-drained watershed shows greater variability overall than does the more naturally drained one. In addition, precipitation in this region is also spatially heterogeneous even at small scales, and this, interacting with and filtering through the historical modifications to the system, increases the complexity of the problem of predicting the catchment response to future changes.