Clare Stephens - Using a detailed ecohydrologic model to investigate catchment response to climate change and the consequences for water availability

Event type: 
20 May 2020
2.00pm - 3.00pm

Via Zoom, details TBA

Dr. Clare Stephens
Water Research Centre - School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW Sydney
Climate Change Research Centre

The engineering sector plays a key role in translating climate change research into real-world adaptation. However, there is often a mismatch between the latest scientific knowledge and the tools available to engineers.  An important example is in the area of water management. While it is well understood that ecological interactions with the hydrologic cycle will influence water availability in the future (e.g. through altered plant water use and growth), these effects are not accounted for in common hydrologic models. In fact, even the literature testing the robustness of hydrologic models to climate change neglects these impacts by assuming that models will transfer as robustly to a future climate as to a similarly wet/dry past period. There are three weaknesses to this approach: 1) unlike periods of past variability, climate change will persist long-term and facilitate lagged responses (such as gradual adjustment of groundwater stores); 2) the climate will be warmer in the future, and 3) CO2 levels will be higher in the future, with consequences for vegetation. In this talk, Clare presents the importance of these overlooked factors in determining future catchment response using a detailed ecohydrologic model that simulates dynamic vegetation growth, nutrient cycling and subsurface water storage/transport. She also looks at how catchment changes vary in space, demonstrating that topography-controlled water availability leads to interesting patterns that vary based on total rainfall. Investigating spatial patterns of shifts in catchment behaviour provides greater insight into environmental dynamics than could be obtained using catchment-average results.

Brief Biography: Clare is a post-doctoral researcher and chartered engineer with the UNSW Water Research Centre. Her key interests are in hydrology and climate change, with a focus on ecohydrologic modelling and data analysis. She obtained her PhD from UNSW, researching the performance robustness of hydrologic models under climate change. Clare was selected as a Westpac Future Leaders scholar in 2016 and the Young Environmental Engineer of the Year (Engineers Australia) in 2015. Before starting her research career, Clare was a consulting engineer working on flood risk management and infrastructure design projects.