Water Resource Management Strategies for Mountainous Forest Catchments Under Climate Change Scenarios: An Ecohydrologic Approach

EPA Grant Number: FP917276
Title: Water Resource Management Strategies for Mountainous Forest Catchments Under Climate Change Scenarios: An Ecohydrologic Approach
Investigators: Silverman, Nicholas L
Institution: University of Montana
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Global Change


Climate change impacts to water resources still are poorly understood, and although global climate models have predicted an overall warming trend over the next century, regional climate change impacts may vary considerably. This project will explore the dynamic coupling between plants and water within mountainous forest catchments to better understand how changes in climate will affect watershed hydrology differently based on the topographic and vegetation characteristics of a basin. The results will help identify potential climate change mitigation opportunities through the optimization of forest management practices.


Global climate change predictions will be dynamically downscaled to the Western Montana region using the Weather and Research Forecasting (WRF) model produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). These results will be compared to a similar study previously completed in California to identify regional differences in precipitation patterns and snow accumulation. Then the climate data will be used to run a newly developed ecohydrologic model to explore how topography and vegetation will affect stream discharge and soil moisture patterns within a watershed. Finally, various forest management strategies will be tested within the model to investigate methods to maintain healthy watershed hydrology under future climate change scenarios.

Expected Results:

Although changes in snow melt and accumulation due to rising temperatures have been consistently identified at gaging stations around the United States, similar signals have been less consistent in stream discharge measurements. It is hypothesized that this may be a result of both a bias in the location of the snow gaging stations (most are at lower elevations) as well as a dampening effect from specific topographic and vegetative characteristics unique to individual watersheds. By studying the effects of topography, vegetation and mesoscale climate on watersheds, this study can explore the non-linear response expected in the stream discharge. It is then anticipated that forest management strategies such as thinning the forest through prescribed burns, planting more trees, planting different specie mixes and altering spatial vegetative patterns can be established to minimize climate change effects on water resources within distinct watersheds.

Potential to Further Environmental/ Human Health Protection

This project will further environmental protection in two ways. First, it will provide high resolution climate predictions that are the first of its kind for Western Montana. These predictions can be used by policy makers, researchers, community members and nonprofit organizations in the area to help better prepare for future climate scenarios. Second, the project will produce recommendations on forest management strategies for optimizing future water resources as well as produce a tool that can be used to explore climate change effects in other regions of the United States and the globe.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, ecohydrology, modeling, mesoscale climate, forest management, water resources, watershed hydrology, topography, vegetation, ecology, meteorology, atmospheric science, snow

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final