Quantifying the effects of land use and model scale on water partitioning and water ages using tracer-aided ecohydrological models

Aaron Smith, Doerthe Tetzlaff, Lukas Kleine, Marco Maneta, Chris Soulsby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Quantifying how vegetation mediates water partitioning at different spatial and temporal scales in complex, managed catchments is fundamental for long-term sustainable land and water management. Estimations from ecohydrological models conceptualising how vegetation regulates the interrelationships between evapotranspiration losses, catchment water storage dynamics, and recharge and runoff fluxes are needed to assess water availability for a range of ecosystem services and evaluate how these might change under increasing extreme events, such as droughts. Currently, the feedback mechanisms between water and mosaics of different vegetation and land cover are not well understood across spatial scales, and the effects of different scales on the skill of ecohydrological models needs to be clarified. We used the tracer-aided ecohydrological model EcH<span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">2</span>O-iso in an intensively monitored 66 <span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">km2</span> mixed land use catchment in northeastern Germany to quantify water flux-storage-age interactions at four model grid resolutions (250, 500, 750, and 1000 <span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">m</span>). This used a fusion of field (including precipitation, soil water, groundwater, and stream isotopes) and remote sensing data in the calibration. Multicriteria calibration across the catchment at each resolution revealed some differences in the estimation of fluxes, storages, and water ages. In general, model sensitivity decreased and uncertainty increased with coarser model resolutions. Larger grids were unable to replicate observed streamflow and distributed isotope dynamics in the way smaller pixels could. However, using isotope data in the calibration still helped constrain the estimation of fluxes, storage, and water ages at coarser resolutions. Despite using the same data and parameterisation for calibration at different grid resolutions, the modelled proportion of fluxes differed slightly at each resolution, with coarse models simulating higher evapotranspiration, lower relative transpiration, increased overland flow, and slower groundwater movement. Although the coarser resolutions also revealed higher uncertainty and lower overall model performance, the overall results were broadly similar. The study shows that tracers provide effective calibration constraints on larger resolution ecohydrological modelling and help us understand the influence of grid resolution on the simulation of vegetation-soil interactions. This is essential in interpreting associated uncertainty in estimating land use influence on large-scale "blue" (ground and surface water) and "green" (vegetation and evaporated water) fluxes, particularly for future environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2239-2259
Number of pages21
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 26 2021


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