Hydrology Project

Danum Valley Field Centre

Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, Sabah, East Malaysia


Baru Experimental Catchment (Stn1) and DVFC by the River Segama

Research within the vicinity of DVFC is managed by the Danum Valley Management Committee (DVMC) and involves collaboration between Yayasan Sabah and organisations such as the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), Sabah Forest Department, FACE Foundation (Netherlands), New England Power (USA), and the Royal Society of London, e.g.,

Royal Society Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Programme

 Ongoing Research Projects

NERC Project GR3/9439: Upscaling water and sediment flows in disturbed rainforest mosaics to the lumped catchment unit

 Dr Nick A Chappell (Lancaster University, UK), Prof Ian Douglas (University of Manchester, UK), Dr Rory P D Walsh (University of Wales, UK), Dr Paul McKenna (Lancaster University), Kawi Bidin (Universiti Malaysia Sabah), Jonny Larenus and Mohd Jamal Hanapi (DVFC)

This study has attempted to describe and parameterise (model) the water and sediment flows at the grid- to catchment- scales. As the process descriptions are usually made at the point-scale of perhaps less than 1 sq m, identifying relationships between this integration unit and the grid and catchment units was also an objective. Numerous authors identify greater understanding of the relationship between point-, model grid- and catchment- scales as key to improvements in the modelling of hydrological, erosional and climatic systems. Such developments would facilitate more robust model parameterisations, or the ability to estimate the behaviour of 'similar' catchments following limited measurement or with different feature distributions (e.g., primary sediment sources). In this study the multi-scale data were collected from a rainforest terrain adjusting to forestry disturbance that occurred 5 years prior to the start of measurements. Identification of persistent sources of river suspended sediments in terrain expected to be recovering from forestry operations was, therefore, the applied aim of the work. Indeed studies that describe the dominant hydrological-erosional processes operating at catchment-scales are increasingly demanded by those defining and assessing the criteria for sustainable forestry.

Chappell, N.A., Bidin, K., and Tych, W. 2001. Modelling rainfall and canopy controls on net-precipitation beneath selectively-logged tropical forest. Plant Ecology, (Special Issue on Tropical Forest Canopies), 153.

Chappell, N.A., Ternan, J.L., and Bidin, K. 1999. Correlation of physicochemical properties and sub-erosional landforms with aggregate stability variations in a tropical Ultisol disturbed by forestry operations. Soil and Tillage Research, 50, 55-71.

Chappell, N.A., McKenna, P., Bidin, K., Douglas, I., and Walsh, R.P.D. 1999. Parsimonious modelling of water and suspended-sediment flux from nested-catchments affected by selective tropical forestry. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B,, 354, 1831-1846.

Douglas, I. 1999. Hydrological investigations of forest disturbance and land cover impacts in South-East Asia: a review. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B,, 354, 1725-1738.

Douglas, I., Bidin, K., Balamurugam, G., Chappell, N.A., Walsh, R.P.D., Greer, T., and Sinun, W. 1999. The role of extreme events in the impacts of selective tropical forestry on erosion during harvesting and recovery phases at Danum Valley, Sabah. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B,, 354, 1749-1761.

Walsh, R.P.D., and Newbery, D.M. 1999. The ecoclimatology of Danum, Sabah in the context of the world's rainforest regions, with particular reference to dry periods and their impact Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B,, 354, 1869-1883.

Chappell, N.A., Franks, S.W., and Larenus, J. 1998. Multi-scale permeability estimation in a tropical catchment. Hydrological Processes, 12, 1507-1523.

Chappell, N.A., McKenna, P., Bidin, K., Douglas, I., and Walsh, R.P.D., 1998. Upscaling suspended-sediment flows in disturbed rain forest terrain: role of localised new sources. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on GeoComputation, University of Bristol, 17-19 September 1998.

Franks, S.W., Beven, K.J., Chappell, N.A., and Gineste, P., 1997. The utility of multi-scale objective conditioning of a distributed hydrological model using uncertain estimates of saturated areas. In A.D. McDonald, and M. McAleer (Eds)., Proceedings of the International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM '97), Hobart, 8-11 December 1997, Volume 1, 335-340.


Spatio-temporal variability in rainfall and wet-canopy evaporation within a small catchment recovering from selective tropical forestry.

 Kawi Bidin, B.Sc. (UKM), M.Sc.(University of Manchester), Ph.D. (Lancaster University)

Within tropical rainforest environments, rainfall pattern and canopy structure regulates the partitioning of water into wet-canopy evaporation and sub-canopy rainfall. These interrelated process then moderate atmospheric water vapour, plant water availability, runoff pathways and soil erosion. Forestry impacts on these atmospheric processes may, therefore, impact on a cascade of other environmental processes. This study, conducted within a 4 km2 experimental catchment in the interior of Northeast Borneo, that was recovering from selective timber harvesting, sought to identify the spatial and temporal structure of the local rainfall, and the impact of forestry on wet-canopy evaporation and lumped, water-balance components. A total of 450 throughfall gauges, 50 raingauges and 40 stemflow gauges were installed and digitally surveyed within the catchment, mostly within a 0.44 km2 tributary area. Data from these instruments were then supported by those from rainfall recorders and river gauges, and an enumeration of the vegetation patchwork present at 8-years post-logging.

Several approaches of statistical modelling were applied, and indicated that the rainfall during the 1997/8 drought-year was (1) highly localised in space, even for regions dominated by convective rainfall, (2) strongly moderated by the local undulating topography, with marked seasonal (monsoon) changes, and (3) delivered primarily as regular, short duration events of low intensity rainfall. The visually classified patchwork of canopy types (supported by a series of biophysical measurements), showed significant differences in rates of wet-canopy evaporation. Smaller quantities of sub-canopy rainfall were observed beneath the disturbed patches of vegetation, in comparison to those beneath undisturbed remnants of primary rainforest. This may have been caused by (i) a greater rate of wet-canopy evaporation, due to enhanced atmospheric turbulence and/or higher surface leaf densities, or (ii) disturbed forest blocks receiving less gross rainfall, due to sheltering by the higher undisturbed canopies. Modelling of the 8-year post-logging water balance data, indicated that both seasonal and inter-annual cycles (related to the El Nino Southern Oscillation) strongly affected the rainfall (P), riverflow (Q) and 'P-Q' dynamics. On removal of these cyclical components, the analysis indicated that there was no evidence of a change in evapotranspiration (strictly 'P-Q') with the 8-years of forest regeneration.

Some of these results were unexpected, and underlined the need for a new emphasis on 'canopy hydrology' within rainforests managed for development and conservation.

Chappell, N.A., Bidin, K., and Tych, W. 2001. Modelling rainfall and canopy controls on net-precipitation beneath selectively-logged tropical forest. Plant Ecology, (Special Issue on Tropical Forest Canopies), in press.

Greer,T., Bidin, K., and Douglas, I. 1998. A spreadsheet (Lotus 1-2-3) based technique for analysing storm suspended sediment data with particular reference to logging disturbance in tropical forests. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 23(13), 1235-1246.

Bidin, K., and Greer, T. 1997. A spreadsheet-based technique (Lotus 1-2-3) for separating tropical forest storm hydrographs using Hewlett and Hibbert's slope. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 22(13), 1231-1237.

This PhD programme was supported by the Malaysian Government / Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Kawi was registered at Lancaster University under the supervision of Dr Nick Chappell, in collaboration with Prof Noh Dalimin of the Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Dr Waidi Sinun of the Forestry Upstream Division of Yayasan Sabah.


Synergistic use of field-data and remote sensing in the inventory of selectively-managed Bornean forest

 Hamzah Tangki, B.Sc.(Universiti Putra Malaysia)

This MPhil programme is supported by the Royal Society (SE Asia Committee) and the Forestry Upstream Division of Yayasan Sabah. Hamzah is registered at Lancaster University under the supervision of Dr Nick Chappell, in collaboration with Dr Waidi Sinun of the Forestry Upstream Division of Yayasan Sabah.


Classified 15x15 km sq. Landsat TM image of the Danum area
Dark green = climax forest, Light green = disturbed forest, Yellow = highly disturbed, now with pioneers,
Red = highly disturbed, now with ginger, Grey = cloud, Black = cloud shadow

Traditional forest inventory is time consuming, and it is difficult to know how many enumeration plots adequately characterise regional forest pattern, particularly with the complex vegetation mosaics associated with tropical, Selective Forestry Management (SFM). Remote sensing of those spectral properties correlated with inventory data, may offer a way to cheaply and more reliably interpolate patterns in key biophysical characteristics such as tree biomass (i.e., potential timber yield). This study, therefore, focused on a 15 x 15 km sq. Landsat TM image of a selectively managed forest (with a harvesting history over the period 1981 to 1993) in equatorial Borneo. Explanation of the spectral and biophysical characteristics of the region were attempted through a combination of helicopter-based radiometry (80 m sq.) and leaf-scale radiometry (80 cm sq.), together with a full enumeration of 50 plots, each 900 m sq..

Knowledge of the region allowed (supervised) classification of the image into classes of vegetation that comprised of: (a) areas of undisturbed, lowland dipterocarp forest, (b) disturbed areas containing commercial timber trees, and heavily damaged areas dominated by either (c) Macaranga spp. pioneers, and (d) ginger spp. These classes differed in their spectral characteristics, most notably in the near-infrared (NIR) waveband, which was low with virgin forest, and high in heavily damaged areas. Measurements of specific canopies from the helicopter platform, supported this finding, though leaf scale measurements were less conclusive due to their greater variability. Large, approximately 1,000-2,000 ha, blocks of forest could be similarly distinguished by their spectral characteristics. These differences, related to changes in the type of SFM practised, were supported by similar variations in tree basal area, standing timber volume and biomass derived from the plot enumeration. Indeed, the observations from the enumeration are important in their own right, given the dearth of such data for tropical SFM systems. Critically, a preliminary model correlating areally-integrated NIR monitored by Landsat TM with similarly integrated biomass data, resulted in a high degree of explanation (i.e., 76 % coefficient of determination).These findings lead me to conclude that there is great potential for interpolating traditional forest enumeration data with the aid of spectral characteristics, particularly those in near-infrared waveband. Such information should provide more accurate estimates of environmental status and potential timber production of natural rainforests managed by selective harvesting.


Classified 15x15 km sq. Landsat TM image of the Danum area
with enumeration plot location shown with blue dots, main haulage roads with pink lines
and white polgons are areas sampled for average radiance


Plot-scale hydrometric and tracer characterisation of soil water flow in two tropical rain forest catchments in Southeast Asia.

 Mark D Sherlock, B.Sc.(Hons), Ph.D.(Lancaster University) 1997

This research has endeavoured to characterise soil water flow vectors across a distribution of plots within two undistributed tropical rain forest catchments in Southeast Asia. The research focused on the potentially contrasting flow pathways through two different soil types: the Ferric Acrisol of the Jungle Falls catchment (Singapore), and the Haplic Alisol of the W8S5 catchment (Sabah, Malaysia). The research also sought to determine the uncertainty associated with the flow characterisation methodologies. Flow pathways were determined using two quite separate techniques within each experimental plot. A traditional Darcy-approach (i.e. use of the Darcy-Buckingham equation) was used in combination with an artificial tracer approach, to determine if sound flow predictions can be made from local measurements of hydraulic conductivity and capillary potential. Analysis of the results indicates that the flow pathways within the two soils contrasted markedly. Tracer evidence suggests that soil water movement within the Ferric Acrisol (Jungle Falls catchment) was predominantly vertical. In the Haplic Alisol (W8S5 catchment), the dominant flow pathway of the tracer was laterally though A and B1 horizons. Often rapid tracer breakthrough velocities were observed, which exceeded the measured soil saturated hydraulic conductivity by several orders of magnitude. This infers the macropores are an important flow route within both the Ferri Acrisol and the Haplic Alisol. In general, the Darcy-based approach failed to predict the velocity and dominant pattern of the tracer flows. This resulted from problems associated with the measurement of the soil parameters needed to solve the Darcy-Buckingham equation. Uncertainty analysis of the measurement and empirical techniques used to derive the Darcy-Buckingham equation parameters indicated that there is serious potential for error, particularly in the derivation of saturated hydraulic conductivity.

Sherlock, M.D., Chappell, N.A., and Greer, T. 1995. Tracer and Darcy-based identification of subsurface flow, Bukit Timah forest, Singapore, S. Jnl. of Tropical Geography, 16, 197-215.

Sherlock, M.D., Chappell, N.A., and Greer, A.G. 1995. Flow pathway characterization in Bukit Timah forest, Singapore. In The International Association of Southeast Asia Geomorphologists Association, Singapore, 18-23 June 1995.

Sherlock, M.D. 1997. Plot scale hydrometric and tracer characterisation of soil water flow in two tropical forest catchments in Southeast Asia. Unpublished PhD thesis, Lancaster University, UK

Sherlock, M.D., Chappell, N.A. and McDonnell, J.J. 1998 Linking soil type with runoff processes: Examples from two tropical rainforest catchments in Southeast Asia. In American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco 1998.

Sherlock, M.D., Chappell, N.A., and McDonald, J.J. 2000. Effects of experimental uncertainty on the calculation of hillslope flow paths.Hydrological Processes, in press,


European Union Project: INDFORSUS

 Prof I Douglas, Dr B Barr, Dr J Cheesman, M Cutler, J McMorrow, N Matthews (Manchester University, UK), Prof G Foody (Southampton University, UK), Dr R Walsh, M Clarke (University of Wales, UK), Prof D Pelz (Fieiburg University, Germany), Prof Sutikno, Dr Dulbatri, E Haryono (Gadjah Madah University, Indonesia), Dr W Sinun, H Tangki (Yayasan Sabah, Malaysia), F Hassan (MACRES, Malaysia), S Thamincha (Kasertart University, Thailand), Prof Le Huy Ba, Nguyen Van De (University of Ho Chi Minh City, Thailand)
INDFORSUS is an international research project which aims to develope ground and remotely sensed indicators of the sutainability of tropical forest exploitation systems in South East Asia. The project is funded by the European Commission and consists of four South East Asian partner countries, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam and four European Institutions: The University of Manchester, Southampton University, Swansea University in the United Kingdom and the University of Freiburg, Germany. The goals and objectives of the project are: (1) To achieve a holistic approach to the impacts of tropical forest exploitation systems in S.E.Asia with special reference to land degradation, forest recovery and sustainable soil and water resource use, (2) To develop relationships between remotely sensed response and forest economic (inventory) variables that may be used to monitor sustainble use, (3) To develop remotely sensed indicators of forest damage of relevance to hydrological/erosion components of the project, (4) To achieve better forecasts of the impacts of change in response to alternative strategies for sustainable land management in productive forests and adjacent agricultural systems, and (5) To adapt research and new technology to the local socio-economic conditions of four S.E. Asian countries and increase its dissemination through local universities and research institutions.

Walsh, R.P.D. 1996. Drought frequency changes in Sabah and adjacent parts of northern Borneo since the late nineteenth century and possible implications for tropical rain forest dynamics. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 12(3), 385-407.

Digital topographic survey of the DVFC research region

 Ismail Abdul Samat, Shaidih Abdul Samat and Nick Chappell

This programme utilises the latest digital total station technology (Leica) within the topographic and thematic survey of the research region about the Danum Valley Field Centre. The work is supported by the Royal Society (SE Asia Committee Project RS/157), with assistance from the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Yayasan Sabah and Lancaster University.


Land-use change impacts on tropospheric convection and rainfall in SE Asia.

 Martin Fowell, B.Sc.(Hons), NERC PhD studentship, 2001-2004

Southeast Asia and the west Pacific experience the most intense large-scale convection on the planet. This convection is central to tropospheric circulations - such as the Hadley cell, the Walker circulation, and the inter-annual El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Walker circulation. The convection is also important in determining the tropical tropopause and, hence, the transport of water vapour and trace gases into the stratosphere. Lastly, the convection will act as an efficient pump, feeding short-lived chemical compounds into the upper tropical troposphere, where they may impact atmospheric chemistry on the regional scale.

The UK universities Global Atmospheric Modelling Programme (UGAMP) utilises the Meteorological Office 'Unified Model' (UM) for a wide variety of studies into climate and atmospheric chemistry. The UM is itself composed of several sub-models, including surface topography, a surface-processes model, and a parameterised convection scheme. This project will, first, assess the results of the modelled climate of SE Asia given the current model set-up - through comparison with measurements of convective cloud and rainfall time- series in particular. Lancaster's DHR-model, a new recursive interpolation, extrapolation and smoothing algorithm for non-stationary time-series, will be used to aid this comparison. The sensitivity of the UM to changes in the surface sub-models, in the light of hydro-climatic and land- use data collected in the region, will then be tested. Finally, the impact of large-scale, land-use change on the model climate will be studied, with particular emphasis on changes in rainfall regime and tropospheric convection.

The research will involve running the Meteorological Office 'Unified Model' on a supercomputer at Lancaster (or MCC) and fieldwork in Malaysia and/or Thailand to examine rainfall and land-use patterns (in association with the Royal Society Rainforest Research Programme).


Water: land-atmosphere interactions in tropical SE Asia.

 Marian Solera-Garcia, B.Sc.(Hons), NCAS (NERC) PhD studentship, 2004-2007

The tropical climate, as captured by Global Climate Models (GCMs) is shown to be very sensitive to the loss of water and energy from the land-surface. As a result, changes in these losses due to tropical deforestation may be having regional or even wider climatic impacts. Some aspects of GCM performance have been, however, questioned in recent years. One area for concern is the representation of the land-surface hydrology within climate models, and organisations such as UK Meteorological Office are currently attempting to address this issue within their latest models. As part of the ongoing work to better link such hydrological and meteorological processes, this PhD studentship would focus on the hydro-meteorology of three 300 X 300 km2 regions in SE Asia – one in each of the following areas: Northwest Thailand (190 N), Central Peninsular Malaysia (40 N) and Northeast Borneo (40 N). These areas are selected as they cover a wide range of hydro-climatic conditions and contain experimental facilities for meteorological and hydrological research.

The PhD project involveS the analysis of hydrology and meteorology of these three regions and a similar analysis of the results of the latest GCM simulations produced by the HadGEM model of the Hadley Centre (UK Meteorological Office). Lancaster’s Data Based Mechanistic (DBM) analysis tools is used, and supplemented by fieldvisits to the research areas in Malaysia and Thailand. Collaboration with Dr Gill Martin of the Hadley Centre is central to the project, as is collaboration with meteorologists and hydrologists working in Malaysia and Thailand, and with other researchers in the ‘UK Universities Global Atmospheric Modelling Programme’ (UGAMP).


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