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A top–down soil moisture and sap flux sampling design of a rain–snow transition mountain watershed

Kyongho, Son, Tague, Christina
Hydrological processes 2019 v.33 no.11 pp. 1553-1568
algorithms, altitude, climatic factors, cluster analysis, drainage, microclimate, models, rhizosphere, riparian areas, sap flow, snow, snowmelt, soil properties, soil water, stream flow, subsurface flow, transpiration, trees, uncertainty, vegetation, watersheds
This paper presents a top–down approach for soil moisture and sap flux sampling design with the goal of understanding ecohydrologic response to interannual climate variation in the rain–snow transition watersheds. The design is based on a priori estimates of soil moisture and transpiration patterns using a physical distributed model, Regional Hydro‐Ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys). RHESSys was initially calibrated with existing snow depth and streamflow data. Calibrated model estimates of seasonal trajectories of snowmelt, root‐zone soil moisture storage, and transpiration were used to develop five hydrologic similarity indicators and map these at (30 m) patch scale across the study watershed. The partitioning around medoids‐clustering algorithm was then used to define six distinctive spatially explicit clusters based on the five hydrologic similarity indictors. A representative site within each cluster was identified for sampling. For each site, soil moisture sensors were installed at the 30‐ and 90‐cm depths and at the five soil pits and a sap flux sensor at the averaged‐size white fir tree for each site. The model‐based cluster analysis suggests that the elevation gradient and topographically driven flow drainage patterns are the dominant drivers of spatial patterns of soil moisture and transpiration. The comparison of model‐based calculated hydrological similarity indicators with measured‐data‐based values shows that spatial patterns of field‐sampled soil moisture data typically fell within uncertainty bounds of model‐based estimates for each cluster. There were however several notable exceptions. The model failed to capture the soil moisture and sap flux dynamics in a riparian zone site and in a site where lateral subsurface flow may not follow surface topography. Results highlight the utility of using a hypothesis driven sampling strategy, based on a physically based model, for efficiently providing new information that can drive both future measurements and strategic refinements to model inputs, parameters, or structure that might reduce these errors. Future research will focus on strategies for using of finer scale representations of microclimate, topography, vegetation, and soil properties to improve models.