Elucidating vegetation controls on the hydroclimatology of a mid-latitude basin

Osman Yildiz, Ana P. Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of vegetation controls on the hydrological response to climatic variability of a mid-latitude watershed characterized by complex terrain and complex geology was assessed using a coupled surface-groundwater hydrological model. To separate infiltration and runoff production mechanisms from vegetation processes, the study was conducted with respect to both the representation of vegetation processes and the soil hydraulic properties for two different hydroclimatic regimes. The model was applied to simulate the warm season hydrological regime in the Monongahela River Basin in 1988, a major drought year, and in 1993, a wet hydrological year. Sensitivity analysis was conducted using the fractional factorial design method. Time-varying vegetation cover characteristics were directly assimilated to the model from satellite observations, and model simulations of streamflow at the outlet of various catchments were compared against observations to assess the model's ability to capture basic patterns of space-time seasonal variability within the basin. The results show that the physical controls expressed by different parameters and parameter interactions change across the basin with land-use, topography and geology on the one hand, and vary significantly between the spring and summer seasons. This is consistent with the notion of highly non-linear river-basin systems where nonstationarity emerges from the interactions among the spatially variable landscape and the temporally variable climate forcing. Above all, one key finding of this study is to elucidate the governing role of vegetation, specifically as described by Fractional Vegetation Cover and Leaf Area Index parameters in the space-time variability of hydrological response in the Monongahela River Basin for the two hydroclimatological regimes, and especially the linkage between areal extent of vegetation and runoff production during drought. Because vegetation dynamics modulate the water and energy budgets via evapotranspiration and surface albedo, and this control is especially critical during the spring-summer transition which coincides with the greening season in mid-latitudes, we argue that these processes have far reaching implications for the predictive stability of physically-based models for hydrological change studies, and propose the notion of model calibration conditional on climate regime for operational hydrology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-448
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Drought
  • Hydroclimatology
  • Modeling
  • Runoff
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Space-time variability
  • Vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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