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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  22 Jun 2020

22 Jun 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Deforestation reduces the vegetation-accessible water storage in the unsaturated soil and affects catchment travel time distributions and young water fractions

Markus Hrachowitz1, Michael Stockinger2,3, Miriam Coenders-Gerrits1, Ruud van der Ent1, Heye Bogena2, Andreas Lücke2, and Christine Stumpp3 Markus Hrachowitz et al.
  • 1Department of Watermanagement, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, Stevinweg 1, 2628CN Delft, Netherlands
  • 2Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Agrosphere Institute (IBG-3), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Wilhelm-Johnen-Straβe, 52425 Jülich, Germany
  • 3Institute for Soil Physics and Rural Water Management, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Muthgasse 18, 1190 Vienna, Austria

Abstract. Deforestation can considerably affect transpiration dynamics and magnitudes at the catchment-scale and thereby alter the partitioning between drainage and evaporative water fluxes released from terrestrial hydrological systems. However, it has so far remained problematic to directly link reductions in transpiration to changes in the physical properties of the system and to quantify these changes of system properties at the catchment-scale. As a consequence, it is difficult to quantify the effect of deforestation on parameters of catchment-scale hydrological models. This in turn leads to substantial uncertainties in predictions of the hydrological response after deforestation but also to a poor understanding of how deforestation affects principal descriptors of catchment-scale transport, such as travel time distributions and young water fractions. The objectives of this study are therefore to quantify the effects of deforestation in the Wüstebach experimental catchment on the partitioning of water fluxes and to directly associate these changes to changes in parameters of a hydrological model with integrated tracer routine based on the concept of storage age selection functions. Simultaneously modelling stream flow and stable water isotope dynamics using meaningfully adjusted model parameters both for the pre- and post-deforestation periods, respectively, the model is used to track fluxes through the system and to estimate the effects of deforestation on catchment travel time distributions and young water fractions Fyw.

It was found that deforestation led to a significant increase of stream flow, accompanied by corresponding reductions of evaporative fluxes. This is reflected by an increase of the runoff ratio from CR = 0.55 to 0.68 in the post-deforestation period despite similar climatic conditions. This reduction of evaporative fluxes could be linked to a reduction of the catchment-scale water storage volume in the unsaturated soil (SU,max) that is within the reach of active roots and thus accessible for vegetation transpiration from ~ 225 mm in the pre-deforestation period to ~ 90 mm in the post-deforestations period. The hydrological model, reflecting the changes in the parameter SU,max indicated that in the post-deforestation period stream water was characterized by slightly higher mean fractions of young water (Fyw ~ 0.13) than in the pre-deforestation period (Fyw ~ 0.11). In spite of these limited effects on the overall Fyw, considerable changes were found for wet periods, during which post-deforestation fractions of young water increased to values Fyw ~ 0.40 for individual storms. Deforestation also caused a significantly increased sensitivity of young water fractions to discharge under wet conditions from dFyw/dQ = 0.25 to 0.43.

Overall, this study demonstrates that deforestation has not only the potential to affect the partitioning between drainage and evaporation as well as the vegetation-accessible storage volumes SU,max, and thus the fundamental hydrological response characteristics of catchments, but also catchment-scale tracer circulation dynamics. In particular for wet conditions, deforestation caused higher proportions of younger water to reach the stream, implying faster routing of stable isotopes and plausibly also solutes through the subsurface.

Markus Hrachowitz et al.

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Markus Hrachowitz et al.

Markus Hrachowitz et al.


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Short summary
Deforestation affects how catchments store and release water. Here we found that deforestation in the study catchment led to a 20 % increase in mean runoff, while reducing the vegetation-accessible water storage from about 225 mm to 90 mm. As a consequence, fractions of young water in the stream increased by up to 25 % during wet periods. This implies that water and solutes are more rapidy routed to the stream, which can, after contamination, lead to increased contaminant peak concentrations.
Deforestation affects how catchments store and release water. Here we found that deforestation...