The impact of across-slope forest strips on hillslope subsurface hydrological dynamics

Leo Peskett, Alan MacDonald, Kate Heal, Jeffrey McDonnell, Jon Chambers, Sebastian Uhlemann, Kirsty Upton, Andrew Black

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Abstract

Forest cover has a significant effect on hillslope hydrological processes through its influence on the water balance and flow paths. However, knowledge of how spatial patterns of forest plots control hillslope hydrological dynamics is still poor. The aim of this study was to examine the impact of an across-slope forest strip on sub-surface soil moisture and groundwater dynamics, to give insights into how the structure and orientation of forest cover influences hillslope hydrology. Soil moisture and groundwater dynamics were compared on two transects spanning the same elevation on a 9° hillslope in a temperate UK upland catchment. One transect was located on improved grassland; the other was also on improved grassland but included a 14 m wide strip of 27-year-old mixed forest. Sub-surface moisture dynamics were investigated upslope, underneath and downslope of the forest over 2 years at seasonal and rainfall event timescales. Continuous data from point-based soil moisture sensors and piezometers installed at 0.15, 0.6 and 2.5 m depth were combined with seasonal (~bi-monthly) time-lapse electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) surveys. Significant differences were identified in sub-surface moisture dynamics underneath the forest strip over seasonal timescales: drying of the forest soils was greater, and extended deeper and for longer into the autumn compared to the adjacent grassland soils. Water table levels were also persistently lower in the forest and the forest soils responded less frequently to rainfall events. Downslope of the forest, soil moisture dynamics were similar to those in other grassland areas and no significant differences were observed beyond 15 m downslope, suggesting minimal impact of the forest at shallow depths downslope. Groundwater levels were lower downslope of the forest compared to other grassland areas, but during the wettest conditions there was evidence of upslope-downslope water table connectivity beneath the forest. The results indicate that forest strips in this environment provide only limited additional sub-surface storage of rainfall inputs in flood events after dry conditions in this temperate catchment setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124427
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Volume581
Early online date5 Dec 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

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Keywords

  • Electrical resistivity tomography (ERT)
  • Flooding
  • Forest strip
  • Groundwater
  • Runoff
  • Soil moisture

Cite this

Peskett, L., MacDonald, A., Heal, K., McDonnell, J., Chambers, J., Uhlemann, S., Upton, K., & Black, A. (2020). The impact of across-slope forest strips on hillslope subsurface hydrological dynamics. Journal of Hydrology, 581, [124427]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2019.124427