Separation and attribution of impacts of changes in land use and climate on hydrological processes | Theoretical and Applied Climatology

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This study aims to assess, compare, and attribute the effects due to separate and combined land use/land cover (LULC) and climate changes on hydrological processes in a tropical catchment. The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model is set up and calibrated for a small contributing sub-basin of the Tana River Basin (TRB) in Kenya. The model is then applied to simulate the hydrological components (i.e., streamflow (FLOW), evapotranspiration (ET), soil water (SW), and water yield (WYLD)) for different combinations of LULC and climate scenarios. Land use data generated from Land Satellite 5 Thematic Mapper (Landsat 5TM) images for two different periods (1987 and 2011) and satellite-based precipitation data from the African Rainfall Climatology version 2 (ARC2) dataset are utilized as inputs to the SWAT model. The Nash–Sutcliffe model efficiency (NSE), coefficient of determination (R2), percent bias (PBIAS), and the ratio of root mean square error to the standard deviation (RSR) for daily streamflow were 0.73, 0.76, 3.16%, and 0.51 in calibration period, respectively, and 0.45, 0.54, 12.53%, and 0.79 in validation period, respectively, suggesting that the model performed relatively good. An analysis of the LULC data for the catchment showed that there was an increase in agricultural, grassland, and forested land with a concomitant decrease in woodland and shrubland. Simulation results revealed that change in climate had a more significant effect on the simulated parameters than the change in LULC. It is shown that changes in LULC only had very minor effects in the simulated parameters. The monthly mean FLOW and WYLD decreased by 0.02% and 0.11%, respectively, while ET and SW increased by a monthly mean of 0.2% and 2.2%. Varying the catchment climate and holding the land use constant reduced FLOW, ET, SW, and WYLD by an average monthly mean of 43.2%, 21%, 13%, and 70%, respectively, indicating that climate changes have more significant effects on the catchment hydrological processes than changes in LULC. Thus, it is necessary to evaluate and identify the isolated and combined effects of LULC and climatic changes when assessing impacts on the TRB’s hydrological processes.