Spatially distributed ecohydrologic models are inherently constrained by the spatial resolution of their smallest units, below which land and processes are assumed to be homogenous. At coarse scales, heterogeneity is often accounted for by computing store and fluxes of interest over a distribution of land cover types (or other sources of heterogeneity) within spatially explicit modeling units. However this approach ignores spatial organization and the lateral transfer of water and materials downslope. The challenge is to account both for the role of flow network topology and fine-scale heterogeneity. We present a new approach that defines two levels of spatial aggregation and that integrates spatially explicit network approach with a flexible representation of finer-scale aspatial heterogeneity. Critically, this solution does not simply increase the resolution of the smallest spatial unit, and so by comparison, results in improved computational efficiency. The approach is demonstrated by adapting Regional Hydro-Ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys), an ecohydrologic model widely used to simulate climate, land use, and land management impacts. We illustrate the utility of our approach by showing how the model can be used to better characterize forest thinning impacts on ecohydrology. Forest thinning is typically done at the scale of individual trees, and yet management responses of interest include impacts on watershed scale hydrology and on downslope riparian vegetation. Our approach allow us to characterize the variability in tree size/carbon reduction and water transfers between neighboring trees while still capturing hillslope to watershed scale effects, Our illustrative example demonstrates that accounting for these fine scale effects can substantially alter model estimates, in some cases shifting the impacts of thinning on downslope water availability from increases to decreases. We conclude by describing other use cases that may benefit from this approach including characterizing urban vegetation and storm water management features and their impact on watershed scale hydrology and biogeochemical cycling.
Burke, W.; Tague, C. (2017): Accounting for small scale heterogeneity in ecohydrologic watershed models. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2017. Abstract H13C-1382..