Structure and detectability of trends in hydrological measures over the western United States

Citation:
Das, T, Hidalgo HG, Dettinger MD, Cayan DR, Pierce DW, Bonfils C, Barnett TP, Bala G, Mirin A.  2009.  Structure and detectability of trends in hydrological measures over the western United States. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 10:871-892.

Date Published:

Aug

Keywords:

climate-change, colorado river-basin, greenhouse-gas, model, mountain snowpack, north-america, precipitation, snow water equivalent, soil-moisture, surface-temperature trends

Abstract:

This study examines the geographic structure of observed trends in key hydrologically relevant variables across the western United States at (1)/(8)degrees spatial resolution during the period 1950-99. Geographical regions, latitude bands, and elevation classes where these trends are statistically significantly different from trends associated with natural climate variations are identified. Variables analyzed include late-winter and spring temperature, winter-total snowy days as a fraction of winter-total wet days, 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) as a fraction of October-March (ONDJFM) precipitation total [precip(ONDJFM)], and seasonal [JFM] accumulated runoff as a fraction of water-year accumulated runoff. Observed changes were compared to natural internal climate variability simulated by an 850-yr control run of the finite volume version of the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3-FV), statistically downscaled to a (1)/(8)degrees grid using the method of constructed analogs. Both observed and downscaled model temperature and precipitation data were then used to drive the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrological model to obtain the hydrological variables analyzed in this study. Large trends (magnitudes found less than 5% of the time in the long control run) are common in the observations and occupy a substantial part (37%-42%) of the mountainous western United States. These trends are strongly related to the large-scale warming that appears over 89% of the domain. The strongest changes in the hydrologic variables, unlikely to be associated with natural variability alone, have occurred at medium elevations [750-2500 m for JFM runoff fractions and 500-3000 m for SWE/Precip(ONDJFM)] where warming has pushed temperatures from slightly below to slightly above freezing. Further analysis using the data on selected catchments indicates that hydroclimatic variables must have changed significantly (at 95% confidence level) over at least 45% of the total catchment area to achieve a detectable trend in measures accumulated to the catchment scale.

Notes:

n/a

Website

DOI:

10.1175/2009jhm1095.1