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Can we create a radically improved forest hydrology model that addresses national water-related issues?

Research aims

The programme aims to create a biophysical model of forest hydrology that accurately predicts water storage and release for entire catchments, while also providing data on changes in water quality over time.

This programme will: 

  • Identify key forest hydrological processes by combining monitoring of soil-plant-atmosphere interactions with a range of targeted ground-based research over the long-term.

  • Develop and use remote-sensing tools, to collect data that spans catchments and planted forests and can be linked to key forest hydrological processes.

  • Create a model that predicts hydrological flow across a range of NZ planted forests.

  • Create an decision making framework that provides the necessary information to optimise water use in planted forests.

Impact Areas (IAs)

Quantifying water processes within a forested catchment

By 2024, we will have identified and quantified the key above- and below-ground processes that govern water quantity and nutrient attenuation and transport within planted forested catchments. This new knowledge will provide the international scientific community with a fundamentally new understanding of the key processes governing planted-forest hydrology. The mechanistic processes will provide the key algorithms for our forest hydrology model to accurately simulate water quantity and nutrient attenuation in planted forests throughout New Zealand.

Spatially quantify forest water flux and storage at different scales with novel remote-sensing technology

By 2024, we will have developed a rapid, low cost, novel methodology to identify and quantify key hydrological processes spatially across a planted forest. This technology will enable:

  • Accurate scaling of point measurements to the planted forest catchment scale;
  • Accurate 3-dimensional modelling of key hydrological processes spatially across a forested catchment;
  • Accurate modelling of water quantity and quality fluxes across multiple catchments and scales to the forest level.

These outputs will provide the key parameters and algorithms for the planted forest hydrology model to accurately calibrate and simulate water quantity and quality fluxes spatially in planted forests throughout New Zealand.

Develop and apply an assessment framework for the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural impacts of planted forests on downstream water ecosystem services

By the end of 2024, we will have assessed the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural impacts of upstream planted forests on downstream water ecosystem services. This will enable:

  • Development of effective and efficient land-use regulations to promote positive impacts and mitigate negative impacts of planted forests on downstream water availability;
  • Design of effective and efficient policy incentives (e.g., water compensation of planted forest owners using best forest practices) to promote the adoption of optimal-water-use forestry regimes.

Given the policy focus of this statement, our findings will be shared directly with key local stakeholders, policymakers, and relevant government agencies.

Need for new research

Understanding how water flows through the land, including planted forests is essential to make the best use of land and water while maintaining environmental health. New research is needed to replace outdated models and understand the complex processes of how water is distributed, used and circulated in planted forested catchments.

Implementation pathway

A fundamentally new approach

We propose an approach that quantifies key forest hydrological processes to provide world-leading water dynamics across a range of environments. Data collected using state-of-the-art technologies will be integrated with novel assessment methodologies then used to construct a new biophysical model that accurately simulates forest water-dynamics spatially as a Forest Digital Twin for a range of environments. The model will then be incorporated into a decision-making framework to evaluate the critical economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of existing/new planted forests on water resources. 

Research sites

We will establish six monitoring sites in forested catchments across New Zealand, plus leverage an existing tree ecophysiology sensor network. Each monitoring site will be organised into clusters, containing primary, secondary and tertiary sites, covering planted forest areas with a range of species/genotypes, catchment positions, soils/geology, hydrology and climate. 


Is the reputation of Eucalyptus plantations for using more water than Pinus plantations justified?

Abstract The effect of Eucalyptus plantations on water balance is thought to be more severe than for commercial alternatives such as Pinus species. Although this perception is firmly entrenched,Read more

Evaluation of Multiscale SMAP Soil Moisture Products in Forested Environments

This study, lead by University of Massachusetts Amherst Konstantinos Andreadis, is one of the first to demonstrate that despite the challenges with its active radar, NASA's Soil Moisture ActiveRead more

A systematic review of participatory integrated assessment at the catchment scale

A systematic review of participatory integrated assessment at the catchment scale: Lessons learned from practice. The literature review was done as part of the Forest Flows Ministry of Business,Read more

Growth, water use, and water use efficiency of Eucalyptus globulus and Pinus radiata plantations compared with natural stands of Roble-Hualo forest in the coastal mountains of central Chile

Abstract The water-use of plantations compared to alternative land uses is an important natural resource management issue in central Chile. The need for local data is heightened by a drying trend inRead more

Forest Flows-Real Time Monitoring of Water Quantity and Quality Spatio-Temporal Dynamics in Planted Forests

This paper was published in the 2020 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) International Conference proceedings and it summarises the Forest Flows objectives and the uniqueRead more

Planted forests and water yield in New Zealand’s hydrological landscape – current and future challenges

Abstract New Zealand’s water resources are coming under increasing pressure with intensification of the primary sector along with a growing population and urbanisation. With the increased water demRead more

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