Modelling long term basin scale sediment connectivity, driven by spatial land use changes

Tom J. Coulthard, Marco J. Van De Wiel

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    Changes in land use can affect local geomorphology and sediment dynamics. However, these impacts could conceivably lead to changes in geomorphological processes beyond the area of land use change, thereby evidencing a geomorphic connectivity in the landscape. We conduct a numerical modelling experiment, using the CAESAR landscape evolution model, to investigate the extent and nature of such connectivity in the River Swale basin. Six simulations are run and analysed. Two of these are reference simulations, where the basin has a hypothetical total grassland cover or total forest cover. In the other four simulations, half of the basin is subjected to either deforestation or reforestation during the simulation. Simulations are analysed for temporal trends in sediment yield and for spatial trends in erosion and deposition across the basin. Results show that deforestation or reforestation in one half of the basin can indeed affect the geomorphology of the other half, thus implying a geomorphological connectivity across the basin. This connectivity is locally very high, with significant morphological impacts close to where de- or re-forestation occurs. Changes are observed both downstream and upstream of the areas where the land use changes occurred. The impacts are more pronounced in the downstream direction and are still apparent in the basin scale sediment yields, as deforestation of half the basin can increase decadal sediment yields by over 100%, whilst reforestation of half the basin can lead to 40% decreases. However, our results also indicate a reverse connectivity whereby erosion and deposition in upstream headwaters and tributaries can, for the first time, be conclusively attributed to land use changes several kilometres downstream, due to alterations in the valley floor base level resulting from incision and alluviation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)265-281
    Number of pages16
    Early online date31 May 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


    • Connectivity
    • Modelling
    • CAESAR-Lisflood
    • deforestation


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