Assessing the Effects of Snowmelt Dynamics on Streamflow and Water Balance Components in an Eastern Himalayan River Basin Using SWAT Model

Abstract

The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model was configured to simulate streamflow under data scarcity scenario for a snow-dominated, forested, mountainous Mago River basin located in the Eastern Himalayan region of India. To account for the role played by snowmelt dynamics on streamflow and its influence on water balance components of the basin, two separate projects were set up: a Reference project in which only hydrological parameters related to streamflow were considered without regard to snow-related parameters, elevation bands, and associated lapse rates and another project referred to as Elevation Band project in which 10 elevation bands were set up for six snow-dominated headwater sub-basins. Sensitivity analysis and calibration was performed using SWAT Calibration Uncertainty Programs/Sequential Uncertainty Fitting 2 for both the projects. The result of the sensitivity analysis showed that curve number (CN 2) was found to be most sensitive. The comparison between the two calibrated projects revealed that inclusion of snow-related parameters, elevation bands, and the associated lapse rates in the snow-dominated headwater catchments improved the hydrological simulation performance and this improvement propagated downstream towards the outlet of the basin. This enhancement highlighted the ability of SWAT to capture the snowmelt dynamics prevailing in the Eastern Himalayan region. Analysis of the water balance components showed that water yield and percolation increased, while evapotranspiration decreased under the effect of snow cover. The contribution of snowmelt runoff to the annual streamflow of the basin was about 8%, and the maximum contribution was made during the pre-monsoon period. This study also highlighted the importance of the presence of snow cover to sustain the ecosystem of the region.

The SWAT model was applied successfully in an Eastern Himalayan river basin. The role of snow dynamics in the hydrology of the watershed was investigated and it was found that the contribution of snowmelt water to the total water yield of the basin was very significant particularly during lean season for the sustenance of the regional ecosystem

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Data Availability

The discharge data that support the findings of this study are available from the Central Water Commission (CWC), India. Restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for this study. These data are available from the authors with the permission of CWC Headquarter, New Delhi. The meteorological data that support the findings of this study are openly available from CWC (precipitation, temperature, and relative humidity) and from SWAT website at https://swat.tamu.edu/software/india-dataset/ (wind velocity and solar radiation). The DEM data that support the findings of this study are openly available in SRTM 1 arc second global at https://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/. The LULC data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the State Remote Sensing Application Centre, SRSAC, Itanagar. These data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions. The soil map data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the State Land Use Board, Arunachal Pradesh. These data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.

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Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge the help and encouragement provided by the Science and Engineering Research Board, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and express sincere thanks to the Central Water Commission (Itanagar) for providing the data for use in this study.

Funding

This study received financial support provided by the Science and Engineering Research Board, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, through Grant No. EMR/2016/005189.

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Correspondence to Arnab Bandyopadhyay.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 11 List of acronyms and variables used in this paper with their meaning/full form and unit

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Chiphang, N., Bandyopadhyay, A. & Bhadra, A. Assessing the Effects of Snowmelt Dynamics on Streamflow and Water Balance Components in an Eastern Himalayan River Basin Using SWAT Model. Environ Model Assess (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10666-020-09716-8

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Keywords

  • Hydrologic modeling
  • SWAT
  • Snowmelt runoff
  • Orographic effects
  • Water balance
  • Eastern Himalaya