Modeling the Potential Impacts of Climate Change on the Hydrology of Selected Forested Wetlands in the Southeastern United States
Jie Zhu1,2,3, Ge Sun4, Wenhong Li3, Yu Zhang3, Guofang Miao5,6, Asko Noormets6, Steve G. McNulty4, John S. King6, Mukesh Kumar3, and Xuan Wang1,21State Key Laboratory of Water Environment Simulation, School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China 2Key Laboratory for Water and Sediment Sciences of the Ministry of Education, School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China 3Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA 4Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, USDA Forest Service, Raleigh, North Carolina 27606, USA 5Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinoi 61801, USA 6Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695, USA
Abstract. Riverine floodplains and coastal margins of the southeastern United States host extensive forested wetlands, providing myriad ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, water quality improvement, groundwater recharge, and wildlife habitat. However, these ecosystems, which are closely dependent on wetland hydrology, are at risk due to human-made climate change. This study develops site-specific empirical hydrologic models for five forested wetlands with different characteristics by synthesizing long-term observed meteorological and hydrological data. These wetlands represent typical Cypress Ponds/Swamps, Carolina Bays, Pine Flatwoods, and Wet Pine, and natural Bottomland Hardwoods ecosystems. The validated empirical models are then applied at each wetland to predict future water table changes using climate projections from 20 General Circulation Models (GCMs) participating in the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project 5 (CMIP5) under both Regional Concentration Pathways (RCP) 4.5 and RCP 8.5 greenhouse gas emission scenarios. We show that projected combined changes in precipitation and potential evapotranspiration would significantly alter wetland groundwater dynamics in the 21st century. Compared to the historical period, all five studied wetlands are predicted to become drier by the end of this century. The water table depth increases vary from 4 cm to 22 cm due to global warming. The large decrease in water availability (i.e., precipitation minus potential evapotranspiration) will cause a drop in the water table in all the five studied wetlands by the late 21st century. Among the five examined wetlands, the depression wetland in hot and humid Florida appears to be most sensitive to climate change. This modeling study provides quantitative information on the potential magnitude of wetland hydrological response to future climate change for typical forested wetlands in the southern U.S. Study results suggest that the ecosystem functions of southern forested wetlands will be substantially impacted by future climate change due to hydrological changes that are the key control to wetland biogeochemical cycles, vegetation distribution, fire regimes, and wildlife habitat. We conclude that climate change assessment on wetland forest ecosystems and adaptation management planning in the southeastern U.S. must first evaluate the impacts of climate change on wetland hydrology.
Zhu, J., Sun, G., Li, W., Zhang, Y., Miao, G., Noormets, A., McNulty, S. G., King, J. S., Kumar, M., and Wang, X.: Modeling the Potential Impacts of Climate Change on the Hydrology of Selected Forested Wetlands in the Southeastern United States, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2017-215, in review, 2017.