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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 04 Sep 2018

Research article | 04 Sep 2018

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

The importance of city trees for reducing net rainfall: comparing measurements and simulations

Vincent Smets1, Charlotte Wirion2, Willy Bauwens2, Martin Hermy1, Ben Somers1, and Boud Verbeiren2 Vincent Smets et al.
  • 1Division Forest, Nature and Landscape, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium
  • 2Department of Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, BE-1050 Brussels, Belgium

Abstract. An in-situ tree interception experiment was conducted to determine the hydrological impact of a solitary standing Norway maple and small-leaved lime in an urban environment. During the two-year experiment, rainfall data was collected and divided into interception, throughfall and stemflow. With approximately 38 % of the gross precipitation intercepted by both trees, the interception storage was higher than for similar studies done in Mediterranean regions. A regression analyses for the Norway maple found rainfall duration, rainfall amount and the tree's leaf area index to be the most important variables influencing interception storage. The regression analysis and the tree interception models by Gash and Rutter, as well as an adapted version of the Water and Energy Transfer between Soil, Plants and Atmosphere model (WetSpa), were tested for their accuracy in modelling the measured interception storage. The models in general overestimated interception storage for small interception events (< interception storage) and underestimated interception storage for bigger interception events (> interception storage). The regression analysis wasn't stable throughout seasons, event sizes and trees making it unsuitable for generic use. The method of Gash slightly overperformed WetSpa and Rutter for all events throughout seasons and trees. However, WetSpa showed a better performance for rainfall events > 10 mm. A scenario analysis, featuring the construction of student houses on a university campus, demonstrated the potential of urban trees to retain rainfall water. Even though trees alone could not restore the natural hydrological balance, they could partly mitigate the increased runoff volume and peak discharge caused by sealing of the natural surface through decreasing the net rainfall that reaches the ground. This study highlights the role of solitary trees in an urban environment where natural hydrological processes are severely altered.

Vincent Smets et al.
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Vincent Smets et al.
Vincent Smets et al.
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Short summary
By intercepting rainwater, city trees can have a substantial effect on the hydrological balance. Our interception experiments on two solitary trees indicate that on average 38 % of rainwater is retained. When modelling the results, the WetSpa model performs similar as the Rutter- and Gash interception models. Our results show that city trees have a substantial impact on the urban hydrological cycle and can be effectively used as a buffer to reduce runoff and subsequent flood related problems.
By intercepting rainwater, city trees can have a substantial effect on the hydrological balance....