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Cloud water interception in Hawai‘i: Developing capacity to characterize the spatial patterns and effects on water and ecological processes responses in Hawai‘i

March 1, 2021

Cloud-water interception (CWI) is the process by which fog or cloud water droplets are captured and accumulate on the leaves and branches of plants, some of which drips to the ground. Prior studies in Hawai'i indicate that CWI is highly variable and can contribute substantially to total precipitation. In this study, we monitored CWI and other processes at five mountain field sites on the Islands of Oʻahu, Maui, and Hawaiʻi to explore how CWI (1) varies with different climate and vegetation characteristics, (2) affects plant water use and growth, and (3) contributes to water resources.
Results show that annual CWI varied from 158 to 910 mm, accounting for 3-34% of total water input at individual sites. This large variation was caused by differences in the quantity of cloud water, wind speed, and vegetation structure between sites. We developed a model to predict CWI using both climatic and forest canopy characteristics. On average, the model underestimated annual CWI by 18%, but reproduced the site differences relatively well. Plant water use decreased during periods of fog events mainly because of associated higher humidity. This new CWI model can be used to assess impacts of climate and land cover change on CWI and provide valuable information for resource management in Hawai‘i, which was not previously possible.
At one field site, we explored the impacts of fog water on hydrological and ecological processes. Fog effects on native plant growth were indirect, primarily buffering effects of solar radiation. Removal of grass allowed natural regeneration of seedlings but did not alter soil moisture values. A soil data-collection program was initiated to help evaluate the role CWI has in providing moisture for plants, reducing wildfire risk within the fog zone, and contributing to groundwater recharge to aquifers that supply drinking water and groundwater discharge to streams.