Storm runoff is important for maintaining surface water resources, while this function is significantly affected by land use and land cover changes, e.g., afforestation and reforestation. The Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP) has undergone large-scale vegetation rehabilitation, especially afforestation over the past 20 years. We hypothesize that afforestation has profoundly changed the amounts and mechanisms of storm runoff generation in headwater catchments on the CLP. To test this hypothesis, rainfall, soil moisture, and streamflow were monitored in a grass catchment and an adjacent forest catchment for two consecutive years. The objective of this study was to elucidate the varied mechanisms of storm runoff generation in these two contrasting revegetated catchments. Results showed that (1) average runoff coefficient in the grassland catchment (0.042) was approximately ten times higher than that in the forestland catchment (0.004), confirming the impact of catchment afforestation on the suppression of storm runoff generation. (2) Peak rainfall intensity was the first-order control of the runoff coefficient in the grassland catchment, but not in the forestland catchment. (3) Threshold values for antecedent soil moisture (~18%) and the sum of antecedent soil moisture index and event precipitation (~210 mm) were identified in the grassland catchment, above which storm runoff significantly increased. (4) Two extraordinary high runoff coefficient events were observed in the grassland catchment, one due to high peak rainfall intensity and strong surface runoff and the other due to high rainfall amount and high antecedent soil moisture. We conclude that long-term afforestation has changed the mechanisms and patterns of storm runoff generation, and different conditions of rainfall intensity, rainfall amount and antecedent soil moisture determined the hydrological connectivity between the upper hillslope and downhill gully in the catchment. This study deepens our understanding of the mechanisms and thresholds of storm runoff generation in headwater catchments on the CLP.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal