Impacts of forest fires and climate variability on the hydrology of an alpine medium sized catchment in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

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Springer, Johanna
Ludwig, Ralf
Kienzle, Stefan W.
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This study investigates the hydrology of Castle River in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. Temperature and precipitation data are analyzed regarding a climate trend between 1960 and 2010 and a general warming is identified. Observed streamflow has been declining in reaction to a decreasing snow cover and increasing evapotranspiration. To simulate the hydrological processes in the watershed, the physically based hydrological model WaSiM (Water Balance Simulation Model) is applied. Calibration and validation provide very accurate results and also the observed declining runoff trend can be reproduced with a slightly differing inclination. Besides climate change induced runoff variations, the impact of a vast wildfire in 2003 is analyzed. To determine burned areas a remote sensing method of differenced burn ratios is applied using Landsat data. The results show good agreement compared to observed fire perimeter areas. The impacts of the wildfires are evident in observed runoff data. They also result in a distinct decrease in model efficiency if not considered via an adapted model parameterization, taking into account the modified land cover characteristics for the burned area. Results in this study reveal (i) the necessity to establish specific land cover classes for burned areas; (ii) the relevance of climate and land cover change on the hydrological response of the Castle River watershed; and (iii) the sensitivity of the hydrological model to accurately simulate the hydrological behavior under varying boundary conditions. By these means, the presented methodological approach is considered robust to implement a scenario simulations framework for projecting the impacts of future climate and land cover change in the vulnerable region of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.
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Alpine watershed , Hydrological modeling , WaSiM , Climate change , Runoff trend , Wildfires , Remote sensing of burned areas
Springer, J., Ludwig, R., & Kienzle, S. W. (2015). Impacts of forest fires and climate variability on the hydrology of an alpine medium sized catchment in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Hydrology, 2, 23-47. doi:10.3390/hydrology2010023