Propagation of future climate conditions into hydrologic response from coastal southern California watersheds

Citation:
Feng, DM, Beighley E, Raoufi R, Melack J, Zhao YH, Iacobellis S, Cayan D.  2019.  Propagation of future climate conditions into hydrologic response from coastal southern California watersheds. Climatic Change. 153:199-218.

Date Published:

2019/03

Keywords:

attribution, CMIP5, conterminous united-states, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, impacts, Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences, regimes, rivers, scenarios, streamflow

Abstract:

As a biodiverse region under a Mediterranean climate with a mix of highly developed and natural watersheds, coastal Santa Barbara County (SB), located in southern California, is susceptible to the hydrologic impacts of climate change. This study investigates the potential changes in hydro-meteorological variables in this region as well as their societal and ecological implications for projected climate conditions during the twenty-first century. Daily streamflow ensembles from 135 coastal watersheds for the period 2021-2100 are developed using the Hillslope River Routing (HRR) model forced with downscaled precipitation and temperature projections derived from 10 climate models in the Coupled Model Inter-Comparison Project, Phase 5, and two emission scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathways, RCP, 4.5 and 8.5). Analysis of the projected ensemble precipitation and streamflow series relative to historical conditions (1961-2000) shows (i) minimal change in annual precipitation (median change within +/- 3%); (ii) an altered seasonal rainfall distribution with a decrease in rainfall at the beginning of the rainy season (Oct-Dec), an increase during the Jan-Mar period, and a decrease at the end of the season (Apr-Jun); (iii) increases in the magnitude and frequency of large storms (>36mm/day) which combined with a shorter rainy season, lead to increases in annual peak flows; and (iv) the propagation of the altered precipitation characteristics resulting in nonlinear changes in the magnitude and variability of annual maximum discharges (i.e., mean, standard deviation, skew) impacting estimated return period discharges (e.g., estimated 100-year flood discharges for the period 2061-2100 under 8.5 increase by up to 185%). While these results are specific to southern coastal California, the nature of nonlinear hydrologic response to altered precipitation characteristics underscores the value of regional studies investigating potential impacts of climate projections on streamflow dynamics.

Notes:

n/a

Website

DOI:

10.1007/s10584-019-02371-3