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Hillslope Hydrology in Global Change Research and Earth System Modeling
Lawrence, D. M.
Band, L. E.
Brantley, Susan L.
Brooks, Paul D.
Dietrich, W. E.
Grant, G. W.
Kirchner, J. W.
Mackay, D. S.
McDonnell, Jeffrey J.
Milly, P. C. D.
Sullivan, P. L.
McNamara, James P.
Mohanty, B. P.
van Verseveld, W.
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Earth System Models (ESMs) are essential tools for understanding and predicting global change, but they cannot explicitly resolve hillslope-scale terrain structures that fundamentally organize water, energy, and biogeochemical stores and fluxes at subgrid scales. Here we bring together hydrologists, Critical Zone scientists, and ESM developers, to explore how hillslope structures may modulate ESM grid-level water, energy, and biogeochemical fluxes. In contrast to the one-dimensional (1-D), 2- to 3-m deep, and free-draining soil hydrology in most ESM land models, we hypothesize that 3-D, lateral ridge-to-valley flow through shallow and deep paths and insolation contrasts between sunny and shady slopes are the top two globally quantifiable organizers of water and energy (and vegetation) within an ESM grid cell. We hypothesize that these two processes are likely to impact ESM predictions where (and when) water and/or energy are limiting. We further hypothesize that, if implemented in ESM land models, these processes will increase simulated continental water storage and residence time, buffering terrestrial ecosystems against seasonal and interannual droughts. We explore efficient ways to capture these mechanisms in ESMs and identify critical knowledge gaps preventing us from scaling up hillslope to global processes. One such gap is our extremely limited knowledge of the subsurface, where water is stored (supporting vegetation) and released to stream baseflow (supporting aquatic ecosystems). We conclude with a set of organizing hypotheses and a call for global syntheses activities and model experiments to assess the impact of hillslope hydrology on global change predictions. Plain Language Summary Hillslopes are key landscape features that organize water availability on land. Valley bottoms are wetter than hilltops, and sun-facing slopes are warmer and drier than shaded ones. This hydrologic organization leads to systematic differences in soil and vegetation between valleys and hilltops, and between sunny and shady slopes. Although these patterns are fundamental to understanding the structures and functions of water and terrestrial ecosystems, they are too fine grained to be represented in global-scale Earth System Models. Here we bring together Critical Zone scientists who study the interplay of vegetation, the porous upper layer of the continental crust from vegetation to bedrock, and moisture dynamics deep into the weathered bedrock underlying hillslopes and Earth System Model scientists who develop global models, to ask: Do hillslope-scale processes matter to predicting global change? The answers will help scientists understand where and why hillslopes matter, and to better predict how terrestrial ecosystems, including societies, may affect and be affected by our rapidly changing planet.
|Journal Title||Water Resources Research|
|Rights||In Copyright (All Rights Reserved)|
|Rights Holder||An edited version of this paper was published by AGU. Copyright (2019) American Geophysical Union.|