Hydrologic modeling to examine the influence of the forestry reclamation approach and climate change on mineland hydrology

Tanja N. Williamson, Christopher D. Barton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Forests in the Appalachian region of the U.S. are threatened by a variety of short- and long-term pressures, including climate change, invasive species, and resource extraction. Surface mining for coal is one of the most important drivers of land-use change in the region, reducing native forest cover, causing forest fragmentation, eliminating intact soil, and affecting water resources. The Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) has been demonstrated as a successful best practice for restoring forests on mine-impacted landscapes, but little information exists on how the practice will affect hydrologic processes. A study was initiated to examine soil-water movement, as in-situ saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat), combined with soil porosity to quantify the potential influence on streamflow of reclaimed mines relative to an unmined, forested control site in eastern Kentucky. We compared different reclamation techniques and time since reclamation to determine the extent to which hydrologic function can be restored. We also simulated evapotranspiration at the watershed scale as a function of reclamation technique for both historical and projected (2050) climate. Results indicate that conventional grassland reclamation critically changes how soil water transitions to streamflow, primarily due to Ksat variability that exceeds that measured for intact and FRA soils. Sites reclaimed using FRA exhibited a soil-water environment that was more similar to the unmined control. However, all reclaimed mine soils were thinner, retained and stored less soil water, and thus could provide less plant-available water during the growing season. The plant-available water stored in reclaimed landscapes may not be sufficient to support forest health and this is exacerbated by projected climate conditions. However, soil development under a combination of FRA techniques has the potential to mitigate this limitation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140605
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 15 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Forest Reclamation Approach
  • Plant available water
  • Saturated hydraulic conductivity
  • Soil water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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