Quantifying the role of climate and landscape characteristics on hydrologic partitioning and vegetation response

Hal Voepel, Benjamin Ruddell, Rina Schumer, Peter A. Troch, Paul D. Brooks, Andrew Neal, Matej Durcik, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


There is no consensus on how changes in both temperature and precipitation will affect regional vegetation. We investigated controls on hydrologic partitioning at the catchment scale across many different ecoregions, and compared the resulting estimates of catchment wetting and vaporization (evapotranspiration) to remotely sensed indices of vegetation greenness. The fraction of catchment wetting vaporized by plants, known as the Horton index, is strongly related to the ratio of available energy to available water at the Earth's surface, the aridity index. Here we show that the Horton index is also a function of catchment mean slope and elevation, and is thus related to landscape characteristics that control how much and how long water is retained in a catchment. We compared the power of the components of the water and energy balance, as well as landscape characteristics, to predict Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a surrogate for vegetation productivity, at 312 Model Parameter Estimation Experiment (MOPEX) catchments across the United States. Statistical analysis revealed that the Horton index provides more precision in predicting maximum annual NDVI for all catchments than mean annual precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, or their ratio, the aridity index. Models of vegetation productivity should emphasize plant-available water, rather than just precipitation, by incorporating the interaction of climate and landscape. Major findings related to the Horton index are: (1) it is a catchment signature that is relatively constant from year-to-year; (2) it is related to specific landscape characteristics; (3) it can be used to create catchment typologies; and (4) it is related to overall catchment greenness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW00J09
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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