Ecohydrological Modeling

Modeling the Ecohydrological Interactions Among Land Use Change, Climate Variability, and Forest Condition in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin

Research led by Dr. Tae Hee Hwang

Human disturbances have been altering the dominant hydrologic regimes with concomitant changes in ecosystem structure and function under climate changes.

The changes in climate and land-cover/land-use (LCLU) have significant impacts on ecosystem services upon which the welfare of the human depends, including the provision of freshwater, recreation, flood and erosion regulation, carbon sequestration, nutrient retention, and biodiversity. 

Freshwater supply is a key ecosystem service, which directly influences people’s daily livelihoods, particularly under extreme hydrologic conditions, such as drought, landslides, and flashfloods. 

predicting future vulnerability of freshwater systems

During the last three decades, the southeastern United States have experienced tremendous population growth and resulting LULC changes, which increased the vulnerability of regional freshwater supply systems under climate change. The water supply in this region is mostly depending on surface water generation without major inter-basin transfers, which limits the flexibility in developing long- and short-term water management plans.

For example, recent drought experience in 2002 and 2007 indicates that even small changes drought severity and frequency will have major influence on water supply systems in Piedmont regions. In addition, freshwater yield is sensitive to the changes of forest extent and composition.

Southeastern US regions have reforested following declining timber harvest in southern Appalachians, agricultural abandonment in Piedmont, and intensive pine plantations in Coastal plains. This expanded forest cover has increased evapotranspiration, which can substantially reduce streamflow generation. Therefore, it is quite critical to inform decision-makers with an integrated assessment of water supply vulnerabilities to extreme hydrologic events to understand how human and natural systems respond and adjust to both ends under LULC and climate changes.

This project will synthesize research in hydrology, forest ecology, LULC, and water resources systems to explain and predict the future vulnerability and susceptibility of freshwater supply systems along the Mountain-Piedmont-Coastal Plain gradient under the climate change.