Understanding hydrological ecosystem services produced by the Indo-Gangetic basin and selected mountain catchments in the Himalayas

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research examines major hydrological ecosystem services produced by the Indo-Gangetic Basin and selected mountain catchments in the Himalayas. Key focus is given to quantity and quality related hydrological attributes that underpin many hydrological ecosystem services. A quantitative assessment of changes in these hydrological attributes in the context of plausible land use and cover change scenarios is crucial for policy making processes to sustain important hydrological benefits. Using a process-based advanced hydrological modelling tool, i.e. WaterWorld (www.policysupport.org/waterworld), the research estimates baseline hydrological fluxes and compares them with the same fluxes under future plausible land use scenarios. The research has used globally available datasets of hydro-climatic, bio-physical, and environmental properties available in the web-based ‘SimTerra’ database. Fieldwork was also conducted for selected catchments to improve the quality of datasets for modelling and to integrate the local understanding of watershed conservation and hydrological ecosystem services into the research.
The vast expanses of croplands in the lowland areas are consuming the majority of available freshwater. The research also highlights the important role of crops carrying hydrological ecosystem services (in embedded form as ‘Virtual Water’) to local and distant consumers. Projected cropland growth uses additional water which will affect water availability for other hydrological ESs. In this situation, the agricultural and water resources related policies should be focused on the efficient use of freshwater resources. In addition, water consumed in crop production processes should be better integrated in hydrological ecosystem services research.
Both Protected Area and human dominated catchments in the middle-mountainous region of the Himalayas are supplying valuable hydrological ecosystem services to downstream users. Conservation efforts of upland people have had a positive impact on water quantity and quality related attributes. Although the conservation intervention has improved the upland forest cover and increased annual evapotranspiration, the bigger increase in fog inputs at the same time has resulted a marginally increase of annual water availability in the downstream. Thus, a positive contribution of fog water inputs is a new phenomenon for the mountainous region. Upland communities’ voluntary role in watershed management is clearly reflected through their participation in various conservation activities. Since conservation practices are essential in improving hydrological ecosystem services, a payment for the ecosystem services programme might help them to achieve their goal.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMark Mulligan (Supervisor) & Daanish Mustafa (Supervisor)

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