The effect of fine-scale topographic variability on model estimates of ecohydrologic responses to climate variability in California’s Sierra Nevada watersheds has not been adequately quantified and may be important for supporting reliable climate-impact assessments. This study tested the effect of digital elevation model (DEM) resolution on model accuracy and estimates of the sensitivity of ecohydrologic responses to inter-annual climate variability. The Regional Hydro-Ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys) was applied to eight headwater, high-elevation watersheds located in the Kings River drainage basin. Each watershed was calibrated with measured snow depth (or snow water equivalent) and daily streamflow. Modeled streamflow estimates were sensitive to DEM resolution, even with resolution-specific calibration of soil drainage parameters. For model resolutions coarser than 10 m, the accuracy of streamflow estimates largely decreased. Reduced model accuracy was related to the reduction in spatial variance of a topographic wetness index with coarser DEM resolutions. This study also found that among the long-term average ecohydrologic estimates, summer flow estimates were the most sensitive to DEM resolution, and coarser resolution models overestimated the climatic sensitivity for evapotranspiration and net primary productivity. Therefore, accounting for fine-scale topographic variability in ecohydrologic modeling may be necessary for reliably assessing climate change effects on lower-order Sierra Nevada watersheds (≤2.3 km2).
Son, Kyongho; Tague, Christina; Hunsaker, Carolyn. 2016. Effects of model spatial resolution on ecohydrologic predictions and their sensitivity to inter-annual climate variability. Water. 8(321): 1-20.