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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Climate and Landscape Controls on the Water Balance in Temperate Forest Ecosystems: Testing Large Scale Controls on Undisturbed Catchments in the Central Appalachian Mountains of the US

Guillen, Luis Andres; Fernandez, Rodrigo; Gaertner, Brandi; Zegre, Nicolas Pierre


The long-term water balance of catchments is given by precipitation partitioned into either runoff or evaporation. Understanding precipitation partitioning controls is a critical focus of hydrology and water resources management. A useful theoretical framework that serves their understanding is the Budyko Framework. Our purpose is to understand how Budyko's n parameter is related to different controls and what is its relevance to precipitation partitioning. We investigated the relative importance of the dryness index and the Budyko parameter for precipitation partitioning, then applied partial correlation analysis and multivariate regressions to find out which were the principal partitioning controls. We focused our research in the central Appalachian mountains located in the eastern United States, considered as water towers to metropolitan areas in the eastern and mid-western US (e.g., Pittsburgh, Washington DC), and selected a set of catchments characterized by minimal human disturbance and with large proportions of temperate forests. We found that climate controls such as mean annual temperature and fraction of precipitation falling in the form of snow exert a higher influence on partitioning than landscape controls (e.g., forest cover, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, and slope). Thus, the importance of vegetation as a primary driver of partitioning could not be confirmed based on regional or basin-wide characteristics. On the other hand, the influence of topography, and elevation in particular, was highly ranked as important. Our study highlights that partitioning controls could differ between basins in the same climate region, especially in a complex, mountainous topography setting.

Published in

Water Resources Research
2021, Volume: 57, number: 9, article number: e2021WR029673

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

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