Articles | Volume 21, issue 2
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 1039–1050, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 1039–1050, 2017

Research article 20 Feb 2017

Research article | 20 Feb 2017

Rapid surface-water volume estimations in beaver ponds

Daniel J. Karran1, Cherie J. Westbrook1, Joseph M. Wheaton2, Carol A. Johnston3, and Angela Bedard-Haughn4 Daniel J. Karran et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Planning, Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5C8, Canada
  • 2Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-5210, USA
  • 3Department of Natural Resource Management, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD 57007, USA
  • 4Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5A8, Canada

Abstract. Beaver ponds are surface-water features that are transient through space and time. Such qualities complicate the inclusion of beaver ponds in local and regional water balances, and in hydrological models, as reliable estimates of surface-water storage are difficult to acquire without time- and labour-intensive topographic surveys. A simpler approach to overcome this challenge is needed, given the abundance of the beaver ponds in North America, Eurasia, and southern South America. We investigated whether simple morphometric characteristics derived from readily available aerial imagery or quickly measured field attributes of beaver ponds can be used to approximate surface-water storage among the range of environmental settings in which beaver ponds are found. Studied were a total of 40 beaver ponds from four different sites in North and South America. The simplified volume–area–depth (V–A–h) approach, originally developed for prairie potholes, was tested. With only two measurements of pond depth and corresponding surface area, this method estimated surface-water storage in beaver ponds within 5 % on average. Beaver pond morphometry was characterized by a median basin coefficient of 0.91, and dam length and pond surface area were strongly correlated with beaver pond storage capacity, regardless of geographic setting. These attributes provide a means for coarsely estimating surface-water storage capacity in beaver ponds. Overall, this research demonstrates that reliable estimates of surface-water storage in beaver ponds only requires simple measurements derived from aerial imagery and/or brief visits to the field. Future research efforts should be directed at incorporating these simple methods into both broader beaver-related tools and catchment-scale hydrological models.

Short summary
Beaver ponds are found in many landscapes and their transient nature makes it difficult to account for the surface water they store using traditional methods. We found that reliable estimates of surface water storage in beaver ponds can be made with simple measurements of pond depth and surface area. This makes it possible for hydrologists and environmental managers to include beaver ponds in models and land use planning decisions without the need for resource intensive topographic surveys.