Deforestation is known to influence streamflow and baseflow in particular in sub-humid environments. Baseflow contributions to the recession limb of a flood hydrograph convey information about subsurface stores from which trees also draw water. Recent works based on the assumptions outlined by Brutsaert and Nieber (1977) have proposed analyzing streamflow recession curves on a per-event basis. In this framework, each event's recession curve is governed by a power law relation with per-event scale and shape coefficients. As streamflow recession depends in part upon evapotranspiration demand from trees, these coefficients are hypothesized to contain useful information about catchment vegetation. Analysis was conducted of 13 small experimental catchments in the eastern United States with known forest treatment histories to determine whether or not streamflow recession behavior as observed from daily discharge records could serve as an indicator of deforestation in the drainage basin. Power-law scale coefficients were calculated for each major stormflow event at each test site and a statistical comparison of distribution of fitted coefficients was made between pre-treatment and post-treatment events as well as between pre-treatment and post-recovery events. A second method using these fitted coefficients in conjunction with Gaussian process regression was employed to track the change in the scale coefficient in the 13 catchments described previously as well as two medium-sized catchments in the North Carolina portion of the American Piedmont which did not have extensive records of forest cover. A linear trend analysis of precipitation was performed to determine whether nonstationarity in rainfall could be a confounding cause of changes in event scale coefficients. These results show a statistically significant difference in scale coefficient values in 5/8 treatment catchments and 0/5 control catchments. This suggests that lesser alterations to forest cover may not be detectable but that this method is robust against changes in precipitation. Additionally, we found clear evidence that forest regrowth in the Piedmont sites continued from 1940-1970. As a proof-of-concept, this work suggests that major alterations to forest cover can be inferred from daily data of stream discharge.
Krapu, Christopher, and Mukesh Kumar (2016): Impact of deforestation and recovery on streamflow recession statistics. American Geophysical Union 2016 Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.