Insights on seasonal fluxes in a desert shrubland watershed from a distributed sensor network

TitleInsights on seasonal fluxes in a desert shrubland watershed from a distributed sensor network
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsTempleton R
Number of Pages171
UniversityArizona State University
Thesis TypeMasters
Accession NumberJRN00569
Keywordscarbon dioxide flux, Chihuahuan Desert, CO2 flux, eddy covariance, evapotranspiration, hydrology, NAMS, North American Monsoon System, rainfall, runoff, soil moisture, soil temperature, Tromble Weir Watershed

     The North American Monsoon System (NAMS) contributes ~55% of the annual rainfall in the Chihuahuan Desert during the summer months. Relatively frequent, intense storms during the NAMS increase soil moisture, reduce surface temperature and lead to runoff in ephemeral channels. Quantifying these processes, however, is difficult due to the sparse nature of coordinated observations.
     In this study, I present results from a field network of rain gauges (n = 5), soil probes (n = 48), channel flumes (n = 4), and meteorological equipment in a small desert shrubland watershed (~0.05 km2) in the Jornada Experimental. Using this high-resolution network, I characterize the temporal and spatial variability of rainfall, soil conditions and channel runoff within the watershed from June 2010 to September 2011, covering two NAMS periods. In addition, CO2, water and energy measurements at an eddy covariance tower quantify seasonal, monthly and event-scale changes in land-atmosphere states and fluxes.
     Results from this study indicate a strong seasonality in water and energy fluxes, with a reduction in Bowen ratio (B, the ratio of sensible to latent heat fluxes) from winter (B = 14) to summer (B = 3.3). This reduction is tied to shallow soil moisture availability during the summer (s = 0.040 m3/m3) as compared to the winter (s = 0.004 m3/m3). During the NAMS, I analyzed four consecutive rainfall-runoff events to quantify the soil moisture and channel flow responses and how water availability impacted the land-atmosphere fluxes. Spatial hydrologic variations during events occur over distances as short as ~15 m.
     The field network also allowed comparisons of several approaches to estimate evapotranspiration (ET). I found a more accurate ET estimate (a reduction of mean absolute error by 38%) when using distributed soil moisture data, as compared to a standard water balance approach based on the tower site. In addition, use of spatially-varied soil moisture data yielded a more reasonable relationship between ET and soil moisture, an important parameterization in many hydrologic models. The analyses illustrates the value of high-resolution sampling for quantifying seasonal fluxes in desert shrublands and their improvements in closing the water balance in small watersheds.