In a Mediterranean climate where much of the precipitation falls during winter, snowpacks serve as the primary source of dry season runoff. Increased warming has led to significant changes in hydrology of the western United States. An important question in this context is how to best manage forested catchments for water and other ecosystem services? Answering this basic question requires detailed understanding of hydrologic functioning of these catchments. Here, we depict the differences in hydrologic response of 10 catchments. Size of the study catchments ranges from 50 to 475 ha, and they span between 1,782 and 2,373 m elevation in the rain-snow transitional zone. Mean annual streamflow ranged from 281 to 408 mm in the low elevation Providence and 436 to 656 mm in the high elevation Bull catchments, resulting in a 49 mm streamflow increase per 100 m (R2 = 0.79) elevation gain, despite similar precipitation across the 10 catchments. Although high elevation Bull catchments received significantly more precipitation as snow and thus experienced a delayed melt, this increase in streamflow with elevation was mainly due to a reduction in evapotranspiration (ET) with elevation (45 mm/100 m, R2 = 0.65). The reduction in ET was attributed to decline in vegetation density, growing season, and atmospheric demand with increasing elevation. These findings suggest changes in streamflow in response to climate warming may likely depend on how vegetation responds to those changes in climate.
Safeeq, M., Hunsaker, C. (2015): Characterizing Runoff and Water Yield from Headwater Catchments in the Southern Sierra Nevada. American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.