Does drought alter hydrological functions in forest soils?
- 1Hydrology, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
- 2Forest Research Institute Baden-Württemberg, Freiburg, Germany
Abstract. Climate change is expected to impact the water cycle and severely affect precipitation patterns across central Europe and in other parts of the world, leading to more frequent and severe droughts. Usually when projecting drought impacts on hydrological systems, it is assumed that system properties, like soil properties, remain stable and will not be affected by drought events. To study if this assumption is appropriate, we address the effects of drought on the infiltration behavior of forest soils using dye tracer experiments on six sites in three regions across Germany, which were forced into drought conditions. The sites cover clayey-, loamy- and sandy-textured soils. In each region, we compared a deciduous and a coniferous forest stand to address differences between the main tree species. The results of the dye tracer experiments show clear evidence for changes in infiltration behavior at the sites. The infiltration changed at the clayey plots from regular and homogeneous flow to fast preferential flow. Similar behavior was observed at the loamy plots, where large areas in the upper layers remained dry, displaying signs of strong water repellency. This was confirmed by water drop penetration time (WDPT) tests, which revealed, in all except one plot, moderate to severe water repellency. Water repellency was also accountable for the change of regular infiltration to fingered flow in the sandy soils. The results of this study suggest that the drought history or, more generally, the climatic conditions of a soil in the past are more important than the actual antecedent soil moisture status regarding hydrophobicity and infiltration behavior; furthermore, drought effects on infiltration need to be considered in hydrological models to obtain realistic predictions concerning water quality and quantity in runoff and groundwater recharge.