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Hydrologic modeling to examine the influence of the forestry reclamation approach and climate change on mineland hydrology

July 5, 2020

Forests in the Appalachian region of the U.S. are threatened by a variety of short- and long-term pressures, including climate change, invasive species, and resource extraction. Surface mining for coal is one of the most important drivers of land-use change in the region, reducing native forest cover, causing forest fragmentation, eliminating intact soil, and affecting water resources. The Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) has been demonstrated as a successful best practice for restoring forests on mine-impacted landscapes, but little information exists on how the practice will affect hydrologic processes. A study was initiated to examine soil-water movement, as in-situ saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat), combined with soil porosity to quantify the potential influence on streamflow of reclaimed mines relative to an unmined, forested control site in eastern Kentucky. We compared different reclamation techniques and time since reclamation to determine the extent to which hydrologic function can be restored. We also simulated evapotranspiration at the watershed scale as a function of reclamation technique for both historical and projected (2050) climate. Results indicate that conventional grassland reclamation critically changes how soil water transitions to streamflow, primarily due to Ksat variability that exceeds that measured for intact and FRA soils. Sites reclaimed using FRA exhibited a soil-water environment that was more similar to the unmined control. However, all reclaimed mine soils were thinner, retained and stored less soil water, and thus could provide less plant-available water during the growing season. The plant-available water stored in reclaimed landscapes may not be sufficient to support forest health and this is exacerbated by projected climate conditions. However, soil development under a combination of FRA techniques has the potential to mitigate this limitation.

Publication Year 2020
Title Hydrologic modeling to examine the influence of the forestry reclamation approach and climate change on mineland hydrology
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140605
Authors Tanja N. Williamson, Chris D. Barton
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70211541
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center