Stream temperature under contrasting riparian forest cover: Understanding thermal dynamics and heat exchange processes

Stephen J. Dugdale*, Iain A. Malcolm, Kaisa Kantola, David M. Hannah

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
300 Downloads (Pure)


Climate change is likely to increase summer temperatures in many river environments, raising concerns that this will reduce their thermal suitability for a range of freshwater fish species. As a result, river managers have pursued riparian tree planting due to its ability to moderate stream temperatures by providing shading. However, little is known about the relative ability of different riparian forest types to moderate stream temperatures. Further research is therefore necessary to inform best-practise riparian tree planting strategies. This article contrasts stream temperature and energy fluxes under three riparian vegetation types common to Europe: open grassland terrain (OS), semi-natural deciduous woodland (SNS), and commercial conifer plantation (CS). Data was recorded over the course of a year by weather stations installed in each of the vegetation types. Mean daily stream temperature was generally warmest at OS and coolest at CS. Energy gains at all sites were dominated by shortwave radiation, whereas losses where principally due to longwave and latent heat flux. The magnitude of shortwave radiation received at the water surface was strongly dependent upon vegetation type, with OS and SNS woodland sites receiving approximately 6 × and 4 × (respectively) the incoming solar radiation of CS. Although CS lost less energy through longwave or latent fluxes than the other sites, net surface heat flux was ordered OS > SNS > CS, mirroring the stream temperature results. These findings demonstrate that energy fluxes at the air-water interface vary substantially between different riparian forest types and that stream temperature response to bankside vegetation depends upon the type of vegetation present. These results present new insights into the conditions under which riparian vegetation shading is optimal for the reduction of surface heat fluxes and have important implications for the development of ‘best-practice’ tree planting strategies to moderate summer temperature extremes in rivers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1375-1389
Number of pages15
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date30 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Climate change
  • Energy balance
  • Forest
  • Riparian shading
  • River temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Stream temperature under contrasting riparian forest cover: Understanding thermal dynamics and heat exchange processes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this