In semiarid complex terrain, the combination of elevation and aspect promotes variations in the water and energy balance, resulting in slopes with distinct ecologic and hydrologic properties. Quantifying the differential energy and water dynamics of opposing slopes can provide essential information on the potential effects of climate variability on landscapes. In this study, we use observations from a network of hydrologic sensors deployed on the slopes of a semiarid catchment in central New Mexico, USA, to quantify the ecohydrologic dynamics of two coexisting and contrasting ecosystems: a juniper (Juniperus monosperma) savanna on a north facing slope (NFS) and a creosote (Larrea tridentata) shrubland on a south facing slope (SFS). Our analyses show that: (1) energy loads exert a first-order control on the dynamics of evapotranspiration and soil moisture residence times in the catchment, with vegetation imposing a second-order control at the onset of the growing season; (2) soils exhibit a characteristic progression of moisture and temperature along the slope-aspect continuum that is preserved throughout the year, going from a wetter and cooler NFS to a drier and warmer SFS; (3) there are remarkable differences in the runoff dynamics among the catchment slopes, with a smaller precipitation threshold triggering larger SFS runoff amounts than at its NFS counterpart; and (4) seasonal water balances of the NFS and SFS follow opposite trajectories in the year and point to distinct soil water pools for evapotranspiration demands. The results of this study have important implications for understanding landscape changes in areas of complex topography under current and future climate variability.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology