Articles | Volume 18, issue 9
Research article
26 Sep 2014
Research article |  | 26 Sep 2014

Evaluation of surface properties and atmospheric disturbances caused by post-dam alterations of land use/land cover

A. T. Woldemichael, F. Hossain, and R. Pielke Sr.

Abstract. This study adopted a differential land-use/land-cover (LULC) analysis to evaluate dam-triggered land–atmosphere interactions for a number of LULC scenarios. Two specific questions were addressed: (1) can dam-triggered LULC heterogeneities modify surface and energy budget, which, in turn, change regional convergence and precipitation patterns? (2) How extensive is the modification in surface moisture and energy budget altered by dam-triggered LULC changes occurring in different climate and terrain features? The Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS, version 6.0) was set up for two climatologically and topographically contrasting regions: the American River watershed (ARW), located in California, and the Owyhee River watershed (ORW), located in eastern Oregon. For the selected atmospheric river precipitation event of 29 December 1996 to 3 January 1997, simulations of three pre-defined LULC scenarios are performed. The definition of the scenarios are (1) the "control" scenario, representing the contemporary land use, (2) the "pre-dam" scenario, representing the natural landscape before the construction of the dams and (3) the "non-irrigation" scenario, representing the condition where previously irrigated landscape in the control is transformed to the nearby land-use type. Results indicated that the ARW energy and moisture fluxes were more extensively affected by dam-induced changes in LULC than the ORW. Both regions, however, displayed commonalities in the modification of land–atmosphere processes due to LULC changes, with the control–non-irrigation scenario creating more change than the control–pre-dam scenarios. These commonalities were: (1) the combination of a decrease in temperature (up to 0.15 °C) and an increase at dew point (up to 0.25 °C) was observed; (2) there was a larger fraction of energy partitioned to latent heat flux (up to 10 W m−2) that increased the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere and resulted in a larger convective available potential energy (CAPE); (3) low-level wind-flow variation was found to be responsible for pressure gradients that affected localized circulations, moisture advection and convergence. At some locations, an increase in wind speed up to 1.6 m s−1 maximum was observed; (4) there were also areas of well-developed vertical motions responsible for moisture transport from the surface to higher altitudes that enhanced precipitation patterns in the study regions.