Coverage-dependent amplifiers of vegetation change on global water cycle dynamics

Journal of Hydrology | Feng et al. [2017]


The terrestrial water cycle describes the circulation of water worldwide from one store to another via repeated evapotranspiration (E) from land and precipitation (P) back to the surface. The cycle presents significant spatial variability, which is strongly affected by natural climate and anthropogenic influences. As one of the major anthropogenic influences, vegetation change unavoidably alters surface property and subsequent the terrestrial water cycle, while its contribution is yet difficult to isolate from the mixed influences. Here, we use satellite and in-situ datasets to identify the terrestrial water cycle dynamics in spatial detail and to evaluate the impact of vegetation change. Methodologically, the water cycle is identified by the indicator of difference between evapotranspiration and precipitation (E-P). Then the scalar form of the indicator’s trend (ΔE+ΔP) is used for evaluating the dynamics of water cycle, with the positive value means acceleration and negative means deceleration. Then, the contributions of climate and vegetation change are isolated by the trajectory-based method. Our results indicate that 4 accelerating and 4 decelerating water cycles can be identified, affecting 42.11% of global land. The major water cycle type is characterized by non-changing precipitation and increasing evapotranspiration (PNO-EIN), which covers 20.88% of globally land. Vegetation change amplifies both accelerating and decelerating water cycles. It tends to intensify the trend of the decelerating water cycles, while climate change weakens the trend. In the accelerating water cycles, both vegetation and climate change present positive effect to intensify the trend. The effect of plant cover change varies with the coverage. In particular, vegetation change intensifies the water cycle in moderately vegetated regions (0.1 < NDVI < 0.6), but weakens the cycle in sparsely or highly vegetated regions (NDVI < 0.1 or 0.6 < NDVI < 0.8). In extremely vegetated regions (NDVI > 0.85), the water cycle is accelerated because of the significant increase of precipitation. We conclude that vegetation change acts as an amplifier for both accelerating and decelerating terrestrial water cycles, depending on the degree of vegetation coverage.

Full text can be found here.



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