Climate change projected to impact structural hillslope connectivity at the global scale
Structural connectivity describes how landscapes facilitate the transfer of matter and plays a critical role in the flux of water, solutes, and sediment across the Earth’s surface. The strength of a landscape’s connectivity is a function of climatic and tectonic processes, but the importance of these drivers is poorly understood, particularly in the context of climate change. Here, we provide global estimates of structural connectivity at the hillslope level and develop a model to describe connectivity accounting for tectonic and climate processes. We find that connectivity is primarily controlled by tectonics, with climate as a second order control. However, we show climate change is projected to alter global-scale connectivity at the end of the century (2070 to 2100) by up to 4% for increasing greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Notably, the Ganges River, the world’s most populated basin, is projected to experience a large increase in connectivity. Conversely, the Amazon River and the Pacific coast of Patagonia are projected to experience the largest decreases in connectivity. Modeling suggests that, as the climate warms, it could lead to increased erosion in source areas, while decreased rainfall may hinder sediment flow downstream, affecting landscape connectivity with implications for human and environmental health.