Modelling the effects of land cover and climate change on soil water partitioning in a boreal headwater catchment

Hailong Wang (Corresponding Author), Doerthe Tetzlaff, Chris Soulsby

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Climate and land cover are two major factors affecting the water fluxes and balance across spatiotemporal scales. These two factors and their impacts on hydrology are often interlinked. The quantification and differentiation of such impacts is important for developing sustainable land and water management strategies. Here, we calibrated the well-known Hydrus-1D model in a data-rich boreal headwater catchment in Scotland to assess the role of two dominant vegetation types (shrubs vs. trees) in regulating the soil water partitioning and balance. We also applied previously established climate projections for the area and replaced shrubs with trees to imitate current land use change proposals in the region, so as to quantify the potential impacts of climate and land cover changes on soil hydrology. Under tree cover, evapotranspiration and deep percolation to recharge groundwater was about 44% and 57% of annual precipitation, whilst they were about 10% lower and 9% higher respectively under shrub cover in this humid, low energy environment. Meanwhile, tree canopies intercepted 39% of annual precipitation in comparison to 23% by shrubs. Soils with shrub cover stored more water than tree cover. Land cover change was shown to have stronger impacts than projected climate change. With a complete replacement of shrubs with trees under future climate projections at this site, evapotranspiration is expected to increase by ~39% while percolation to decrease by 21% relative to the current level, more pronounced than the modest changes in the two components (<8%) with climate change only. The impacts would be particularly marked in warm seasons, which may result in water stress experienced by the vegetation. The findings provide an important evidence base for adaptive management strategies of future changes in low-energy humid environments, where vegetation growth is usually restricted by radiative energy and not water availability while few studies that quantify soil water partitioning exist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-531
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date7 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • boreal climate change
  • land cover change
  • climate-vegetation interactions
  • water balance
  • soil hydrology
  • Hydrus-1D


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