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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Do headwater lakes moderate downstream temperature response to forest harvesting? Illustrating opportunities and obstacles associated with virtual experiments

Leach, Jason A.; Moore, R. Dan; Laudon, Hjalmar; Buahin, Caleb A.; Neilson, Bethany T.


There are concerns that environmental changes, such as climate variability and forest harvesting, are altering stream thermal regimes and impacting aquatic ecosystems. Previous studies have suggested that the abundant headwater lakes found in northern landscapes may moderate downstream temperature response to forest harvesting. We investigated this hypothesis using a virtual experimental approach based on detailed field measurements made at boreal catchments in northern Sweden coupled with a process-based stream temperature model. We simulated streamside harvesting for stream reaches with and without a headwater lake. Mean daily summer stream temperature response to harvesting was generally between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees C higher for the stream without a lake than for the stream with a lake. However, during rain events the stream with the lake showed a greater stream temperature response than the stream without a lake. Headwater lakes typically store and delay runoff from rain events, augment baseflow, and have elevated outflow temperatures. These differences in upstream boundary conditions, in terms of flow and water temperature, were the key drivers for the contrasting harvest responses between streams with and without headwater lakes. These findings were generally consistent across different harvesting scenarios; however, uncertainty in the hyporheic term and post-harvest microclimate conditions influenced the simulated magnitude of post-harvest stream temperature response. Our study highlights the utility of virtual experiments for gaining insight on systems understanding but caution is needed when using models for predictions outside the conditions for which models are calibrated.


energy budget; forest harvesting; lakes; stream networks; stream temperature; virtual experiments

Published in

Hydrological Processes
2022, Volume: 36, number: 6, article number: e14593
Publisher: WILEY

    SLU Authors

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land
    SDG13 Climate action

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences
    Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

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