Articles | Volume 19, issue 6
Research article
19 Jun 2015
Research article |  | 19 Jun 2015

Including the dynamic relationship between climatic variables and leaf area index in a hydrological model to improve streamflow prediction under a changing climate

Z. K. Tesemma, Y. Wei, M. C. Peel, and A. W. Western

Abstract. Anthropogenic climate change is projected to enrich the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, change vegetation dynamics and influence the availability of water at the catchment scale. This study combines a nonlinear model for estimating changes in leaf area index (LAI) due to climatic fluctuations with the variable infiltration capacity (VIC) hydrological model to improve catchment streamflow prediction under a changing climate. The combined model was applied to 13 gauged sub-catchments with different land cover types (crop, pasture and tree) in the Goulburn–Broken catchment, Australia, for the "Millennium Drought" (1997–2009) relative to the period 1983–1995, and for two future periods (2021–2050 and 2071–2100) and two emission scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and RCP8.5) which were compared with the baseline historical period of 1981–2010. This region was projected to be warmer and mostly drier in the future as predicted by 38 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) runs from 15 global climate models (GCMs) and for two emission scenarios. The results showed that during the Millennium Drought there was about a 29.7–66.3 % reduction in mean annual runoff due to reduced precipitation and increased temperature. When drought-induced changes in LAI were included, smaller reductions in mean annual runoff of between 29.3 and 61.4 % were predicted. The proportional increase in runoff due to modeling LAI was 1.3–10.2 % relative to not including LAI. For projected climate change under the RCP4.5 emission scenario, ignoring the LAI response to changing climate could lead to a further reduction in mean annual runoff of between 2.3 and 27.7 % in the near-term (2021–2050) and 2.3 to 23.1 % later in the century (2071–2100) relative to modeling the dynamic response of LAI to precipitation and temperature changes. Similar results (near-term 2.5–25.9 % and end of century 2.6–24.2 %) were found for climate change under the RCP8.5 emission scenario. Incorporating climate-induced changes in LAI in the VIC model reduced the projected declines in streamflow and confirms the importance of including the effects of changes in LAI in future projections of streamflow.