Ecohydrologic role of solar radiation on landscape evolution

Omer Yetemen, Erkan Istanbulluoglu, J. Homero Flores-Cervantes, Enrique Vivoni, Rafael L. Bras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Solar radiation has a clear signature on the spatial organization of ecohydrologic fluxes, vegetation patterns and dynamics, and landscape morphology in semiarid ecosystems. Existing landscape evolution models (LEMs) do not explicitly consider spatially explicit solar radiation as model forcing. Here, we improve an existing LEM to represent coupled processes of energy, water, and sediment balance for semiarid fluvial catchments. To ground model predictions, a study site is selected in central New Mexico where hillslope aspect has a marked influence on vegetation patterns and landscape morphology. Model predictions are corroborated using limited field observations in central NM and other locations with similar conditions. We design a set of comparative LEM simulations to investigate the role of spatially explicit solar radiation on landscape ecohydro-geomorphic development under different uplift scenarios. Aspect-control and network-control are identified as the two main drivers of soil moisture and vegetation organization on the landscape. Landscape-scale and long-term implications of these short-term ecohdrologic patterns emerged in modeled landscapes. As north facing slopes (NFS) get steeper by continuing uplift they support erosion-resistant denser vegetation cover which leads to further slope steepening until erosion and uplift attains a dynamic equilibrium. Conversely, on south facing slopes (SFS), as slopes grow with uplift, increased solar radiation exposure with slope supports sparser biomass and shallower slopes. At the landscape scale, these differential erosion processes lead to asymmetric development of catchment forms, consistent with regional observations. Understanding of ecohydrogeomorphic evolution will improve to assess the impacts of past and future climates on landscape response and morphology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1157
Number of pages31
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2015


  • catchment evolution
  • ecohydrology
  • geomorphology
  • landscape evolution
  • solar radiation
  • vegetation dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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