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Modelling Watersheds as Spatial Object Hierarchies: Structure and Dynamics

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The generation, transport and fate of non-point source pollutants in surface water systems is recognized as a major threat to water supplies, aquatic and coastal ecosystems. The transformation and movement of water, carbon and nutrients through watersheds integrates a set of ecosystem processes along hydrologic flowpaths. Human individual and institutional interactions with these processes involve direct addition or abstraction of these substances, or the alteration of land cover and drainage systems. In natural and developed catchments, these processes often vary at granularities ranging from below the level of a hillslope, up through regional watersheds. This suggests the need for the development of hierarchical analysis tools that can address the integration of a set of biophysical, biogeochemical and socioeconomic processes over a spectrum of scales. We describe and illustrate the use of a watershed model implemented as a spatial object hierarchy, representing successively contained landform classes associated with class specific processes as member functions. The model has been linked in a range of looser and tighter couplings with GRASS and ArcView, supplemented by specific terrain analytical functions. We illustrate the data and model system for an instrumented catchment monitored as part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site centering on integrated carbon, water and nutrient cycling.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina, 2: San Diego State University, 3: Canada Centre for Remote Sensing

Publication date: June 1, 2000


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