Multiple stable states in hydrological models: an ecohydrological investigation

T. J. Peterson, R. M. Argent, A. W. Western, F. H.S. Chiew

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Many physical-based models of surface and groundwater hydrology are constructed without the possibility of multiple stable states for the same parameter set. For such a conceptualization, at the cessation of a transient hydrological disturbance of any magnitude the model will return to the same stable state and thus show an infinite resilience. To highlight and falsify this assumption, a numerical distributed ecohydrological model (coupled hillslope Boussinesq-vertically lumped vadose zone) is presented, in which qualitatively different steady state water table elevations exist for the same parameter set. The multiple steady states are shown to emerge from a positive feedback arising from a reduction in leaf area index (LAI) and thus transpiration, as a saline water table approaches the surface. Limit cycle continuation is also undertaken to quantify the state-space location of the threshold (repellor) between the steady states (attractors) and quantify the resilience. While the model is biophysically simple, it is sufficiently complex to challenge this potentially significant assumption within water resource planning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberW03406
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes

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