An integrated modeling framework for exploring flow regime and water quality changes with increasing biofuel crop production in the U.S. Corn Belt

Mary A. Yaeger, Mashor Housh, Ximing Cai, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

To better address the dynamic interactions between human and hydrologic systems, we develop an integrated modeling framework that employs a System of Systems optimization model to emulate human development decisions which are then incorporated into a watershed model to estimate the resulting hydrologic impacts. The two models are run interactively to simulate the coevolution of coupled human-nature systems, such that reciprocal feedbacks between hydrologic processes and human decisions (i.e.; human impacts on critical low flows and hydrologic impacts on human decisions on land and water use) can be assessed. The framework is applied to a Midwestern U.S. agricultural watershed, in the context of proposed biofuels development. This operation is illustrated by projecting three possible future coevolution trajectories, two of which use dedicated biofuel crops to reduce annual watershed nitrate export while meeting ethanol production targets. Imposition of a primary external driver (biofuel mandate) combined with different secondary drivers (water quality targets) results in highly nonlinear and multiscale responses of both the human and hydrologic systems, including multiple tradeoffs, impacting the future coevolution of the system in complex, heterogeneous ways. The strength of the hydrologic response is sensitive to the magnitude of the secondary driver; 45% nitrate reduction target leads to noticeable impacts at the outlet, while a 30% reduction leads to noticeable impacts that are mainly local. The local responses are conditioned by previous human-hydrologic modifications and their spatial relationship to the new biofuel development, highlighting the importance of past coevolutionary history in predicting future trajectories of change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9385-9404
Number of pages20
JournalWater Resources Research
Volume50
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 23 2014

Keywords

  • coevolution
  • coupled human-nature systems
  • land use change
  • tradeoffs
  • water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology

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