Broadleaf afforestation impacts on terrestrial hydrology insignificant compared to climate change in Great Britain

Buechel, Marcus; Slater, Louise; Dadson, Simon ORCID: 2024 Broadleaf afforestation impacts on terrestrial hydrology insignificant compared to climate change in Great Britain. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 28 (9). 2081-2105.

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Widespread afforestation has been proposed internationally to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide; however, the specific hydrological consequences and benefits of such large-scale afforestation (e.g. natural flood management) are poorly understood. We use a high-resolution land surface model, the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES), with realistic potential afforestation scenarios to quantify possible hydrological change across Great Britain in both present and projected climate. We assess whether proposed afforestation produces significantly different regional responses across regions; whether hydrological fluxes, stores and events are significantly altered by afforestation relative to climate; and how future hydrological processes may be altered up to 2050. Additionally, this enables determination of the relative sensitivity of land surface process representation in JULES compared to climate changes. For these three aims we run simulations using (i) past climate with proposed land cover changes and known floods and drought events; (ii) past climate with independent changes in precipitation, temperature, and CO2; and (iii) a potential future climate (2020–2050). We find the proposed scale of afforestation is unlikely to significantly alter regional hydrology; however, it can noticeably decrease low flows whilst not reducing high flows. The afforestation levels minimally impact hydrological processes compared to changes in precipitation, temperature, and CO2. Warming average temperatures (+3 °C) decreases streamflow, while rising precipitation (130 %) and CO2 (600 ppm) increase streamflow. Changes in high flow are generated because of evaporative parameterizations, whereas low flows are controlled by runoff model parameterizations. In this study, land surface parameters within a land surface model do not substantially alter hydrological processes when compared to climate.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hydro-climate Risks (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 1607-7938
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
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Date made live: 10 May 2024 10:50 +0 (UTC)

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