Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Trickle-down ecohydrology : complexity of rainfall interception and net precipitation under forest canopies

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  • Rainfall interception is a primary control over the moisture input to a forested ecosystem through the partitioning of precipitation into throughfall, stemflow, and an evaporated component (i.e. the interception loss). Rainfall interception is a spatially and temporally varying process at multiple scales, but heterogeneity in interception processes are poorly understood and poorly described in the literature. We need to know how net precipitation varies in ecosystems because natural systems are driven by non-linear ecohydrological processes where mean values cannot capture localized effects or the cumulative consequences associated with an extremely heterogeneous input. In this thesis, we present two studies that investigate the heterogeneity of interception loss and throughfall in a forested catchment in the western Cascades range of Oregon. In one study, we examined the spatio-temporal patterns among point measurements of throughfall depth and isotopic composition to determine the cause of isotopic differences between throughfall and rainfall. Our results indicated that the residual moisture retained on the canopy from previous events plays a major role in determining the isotopic composition of the next event's throughfall. Differences between the isotopic composition of throughfall samples could indicate further partitioning of throughfall into various flow-paths from the canopy. The second project examined the question of how vegetation variability and terrain complexity drive interception loss heterogeneity at the whole-catchment scale. We applied a simple interception model to a watershed gridded at a 50 m resolution to investigate the relative importance of topographic and vegetative controls over the spatial variability of interception loss. We found that storm characteristics are crucial regarding the impact of spatial heterogeneities in vegetation and evaporation rates. In the Pacific Northwest climate, interception loss is not highly variable for the majority of the year because the annual precipitation is dominated by large storms with low interception losses. However, the net precipitation input to a watershed becomes extremely heterogeneous in the summer due to high interception loss variability. Summer interception loss could be an important control over the spatial variability of the availability of moisture, coinciding with when vegetation is most water-limited.
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