Water balance and vegetation change in the Sahel: A case study at the watershed scale with an eco-hydrological model

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Journal Article
Journal of Arid Environments, 2009, 73 (12), pp. 1125 - 1135
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The Sahel, a semiarid area set in a fragile context, has been undergoing dramatic climate and land-use changes since the middle of the 20th century. The effects of these changes on the water cycle are analyzed using a coupled eco-hydrological model at the scale of a small representative catchment. Three land cover situations, corresponding to the 1950, 1975, and 1992 states, are simulated with two contrasted rain seasons, to produce the respective and combined effects of these two factors on the catchment water balance. The latter is largely dominated by rain-season evapotranspiration, representing some 60-65% of annual rainfall for the wet year in the three land use situations, but over 85% for the dry year. In absolute terms, evapotranspiration appears more sensitive to land-use changes than to the climate, but with variations that remain below 10%. These evapotranspiration figures are corroborated by field observations. Relative runoff sensitivity is much higher, nearly in the same 1.5:1 ratio as the annual rainfall for the climate effect, and with an increase by a factor of about 2.6 for the land-use effect. Confronting long-term runoff and water table dynamics evidences a direct linkage between these two processes. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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