Abstract

Conversion of boreal forest into agricultural land is likely to occur due to the shift of climatic zones and increasing food demand. However, any land conversion will affect the water balance and hence solute fluxes within the soil column and connected ecosystems. Understanding the consequences of land conversion on soil hydrology is essential to support an economically viable agriculture while minimizing its environmental footprint. Hydrological models can simulate these effects based on regionally adjusted climate scenarios. Here, we combined a local climate analysis with hydrological simulations (Hydrus-1D) of boreal soils before and after agricultural conversion. Historical climate analysis showed increasing temperatures and growing degree days while precipitation remains stable. Hydrological simulations revealed lower saturation and higher infiltration rates for unconverted soils, indicating lower runoff and increased infiltration and deep percolation. In contrast, agricultural soils have slower infiltration rates, particularly in the upper horizon. Over the long term, agricultural conversion consequently increases erosion risk and nutrient loss by runoff. This might further progressively limit groundwater recharge, affect hydrological processes and functions and future drought/flood conditions at catchment levels. Hence, conversion of boreal soils demands a primary identification of suitable areas to minimize its impacts.

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