A river basin spatial model to quantitively advance understanding of riverine tree response dynamics to water availability and hydrological management

The Journal of Environmental Management
By: , and 



Ecological condition continues to decline in arid and semi-arid river basins globally due to hydrological over-abstraction combined with changing climatic conditions. Whilst provision of water for the environment has been a primary approach to alleviate ecological decline, how to accurately monitor changes in riverine trees at fine spatial and temporal scales, remains a substantial challenge. This is further complicated by constantly changing water availability across expansive river basins with varying climatic zones. Within, we combine rare, fine-scale, high frequency temporal in-situ field collected data with machine learning and remote sensing, to provide a robust model that enables broadscale monitoring of physiological tree water stress response to environmental changes via actual evapotranspiration (ET). Physiological variation of Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum) and E. largiflorens (Black Box) trees across 10 study locations in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, Australia, was captured instantaneously using sap flow sensors, substantially reducing tree response lags encountered by monitoring visual canopy changes. Actual ET measurement of both species was used to bias correct a national spatial ET product where a Random Forest model was trained using continuous timeseries of in-situ data of up to four years. Precise monthly AMLETT (Australia-wide Machine Learning ET for Trees) ET outputs in 30 m pixel resolution from 2012 to 2021, were derived by incorporating additional remote sensing layers such as soil moisture, land surface temperature, radiation and EVI and NDVI in the Random Forest model. Landsat and Sentinal-2 correlation results between in-situ ET and AMLETT ET returned R2 of 0.94 (RMSE 6.63 mm period−1) and 0.92 (RMSE 6.89 mm period−1), respectively. In comparison, correlation between in-situ ET and a national ET product returned R2 of 0.44 (RMSE 34.08 mm period−1) highlighting the need for bias correction to generate accurate absolute ET values. The AMLETT method presented here, enhances environmental management in river basins worldwide. Such robust broadscale monitoring can inform water accounting and importantly, assist decisions on where to prioritize water for the environment to restore and protect key ecological assets and preserve floodplain and riparian ecological function.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A river basin spatial model to quantitively advance understanding of riverine tree response dynamics to water availability and hydrological management
Series title The Journal of Environmental Management
DOI 10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.117393
Volume 332
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 117393, 14 p.
Country Australia
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