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Hydroclimatic Response of Watersheds to Urban Intensity: An Observational and Modeling-Based Analysis for the White River Basin, Indiana

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  • 1 Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • | 2 Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • | 3 Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • | 4 Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
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Abstract

Impervious surface area (ISA) has different surface characteristics from the natural land cover and has great influence on watershed hydrology. To assess the urbanization effects on streamflow regimes, the authors analyzed the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamflow data of 16 small watersheds in the White River [Indiana (IN)] basin. Correlation between hydrologic metrics (flow distribution, daily variation in streamflow, and frequency of high-flow events) and ISA was investigated by employing the nonparametric Mann–Kendall method. Results derived from the 16 watersheds show that urban intensity has a significant effect on all three hydrologic metrics. The Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model was modified to represent ISA in urbanized basins using a bulk parameterization approach. The model was then applied to the White River basin to investigate the potential ability to simulate the water and energy cycle response to urbanization. Correlation analysis for individual VIC grid cells indicates that the VIC urban model was able to reproduce the slope magnitude and mean value of the USGS streamflow metrics. The urban model also reproduced the urban heat island (UHI) seen in the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) land surface temperature products, especially for the grids encompassing the city of Indianapolis, IN. The difference of the hydrologic metrics obtained from the VIC model with and without urban representation indicates that the streamflow regime in the White River has been modified because of urban development. The observed data, together with model analysis, suggested that 3%–5% ISA in a watershed is the detectable threshold, beyond which urbanization effects start to have a statistically significant influence on streamflow regime.

Corresponding author address: Guoxiang Yang, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, Lilly Hall, 915 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907. Email: yangg@purdue.edu

Abstract

Impervious surface area (ISA) has different surface characteristics from the natural land cover and has great influence on watershed hydrology. To assess the urbanization effects on streamflow regimes, the authors analyzed the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamflow data of 16 small watersheds in the White River [Indiana (IN)] basin. Correlation between hydrologic metrics (flow distribution, daily variation in streamflow, and frequency of high-flow events) and ISA was investigated by employing the nonparametric Mann–Kendall method. Results derived from the 16 watersheds show that urban intensity has a significant effect on all three hydrologic metrics. The Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model was modified to represent ISA in urbanized basins using a bulk parameterization approach. The model was then applied to the White River basin to investigate the potential ability to simulate the water and energy cycle response to urbanization. Correlation analysis for individual VIC grid cells indicates that the VIC urban model was able to reproduce the slope magnitude and mean value of the USGS streamflow metrics. The urban model also reproduced the urban heat island (UHI) seen in the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) land surface temperature products, especially for the grids encompassing the city of Indianapolis, IN. The difference of the hydrologic metrics obtained from the VIC model with and without urban representation indicates that the streamflow regime in the White River has been modified because of urban development. The observed data, together with model analysis, suggested that 3%–5% ISA in a watershed is the detectable threshold, beyond which urbanization effects start to have a statistically significant influence on streamflow regime.

Corresponding author address: Guoxiang Yang, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, Lilly Hall, 915 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907. Email: yangg@purdue.edu

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