Publications

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2017
Sumargo, E, Cayan DR.  2017.  Variability of cloudiness over mountain terrain in the western United States. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 18:1227-1245.   10.1175/jhm-d-16-0194.1   AbstractWebsite

This study investigates the spatial and temporal variability of cloudiness across mountain zones in the western United States. Daily average cloud albedo is derived from a 19-yr series (1996-2014) of half-hourly Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) images. During springtime when incident radiation is active in driving snowmelt-runoff processes, the magnitude of daily cloud variations can exceed 50% of long-term averages. Even when aggregated over 3-month periods, cloud albedo varies by +/- 10% of long-term averages in many locations. Rotated empirical orthogonal functions (REOFs) of daily cloud albedo anomalies over high-elevation regions of the western conterminous United States identify distinct regional patterns, wherein the first five REOFs account for; similar to 67% of the total variance. REOF1 is centered over Northern California and Oregon and is pronounced between November and March. REOF2 is centered over the interior northwest and is accentuated between March and July. Each of the REOF/rotated principal components (RPC) modes associates with anomalous large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns and one or more large-scale teleconnection indices (Arctic Oscillation, Nino-3.4, and Pacific-North American), which helps to explain why anomalous cloudiness patterns take on regional spatial scales and contain substantial variability over seasonal time scales.

2013
Pierce, DW, Cayan DR.  2013.  The uneven response of different snow measures to human-induced climate warming. Journal of Climate. 26:4148-4167.   10.1175/jcli-d-12-00534.1   AbstractWebsite

The effect of human-induced climate warming on different snow measures in the western United States is compared by calculating the time required to achieve a statistically significant linear trend in the different measures, using time series derived from regionally downscaled global climate models. The measures examined include the water content of the spring snowpack, total cold-season snowfall, fraction of winter precipitation that falls as snow, length of the snow season, and fraction of cold-season precipitation retained in the spring snowpack, as well as temperature and precipitation. Various stakeholders may be interested in different sets of these variables. It is found that temperature and the fraction of winter precipitation that falls as snow exhibit significant trends first, followed in 5-10 years by the fraction of cold-season precipitation retained in the spring snowpack, and later still by the water content of the spring snowpack. Change in total cold-season snowfall is least detectable of all the measures, since it is strongly linked to precipitation, which has large natural variability and only a weak anthropogenic trend in the western United States. Averaging over increasingly wider areas monotonically increases the signal-to-noise ratio of the 1950-2025 linear trend from 0.15 to 0.37, depending on the snow measure.

2011
Pan, LL, Chen SH, Cayan D, Lin MY, Hart Q, Zhang MH, Liu YB, Wang JZ.  2011.  Influences of climate change on California and Nevada regions revealed by a high-resolution dynamical downscaling study. Climate Dynamics. 37:2005-2020.   10.1007/s00382-010-0961-5   AbstractWebsite

In this study, the influence of climate change to California and Nevada regions was investigated through high-resolution (4-km grid spacing) dynamical downscaling using the WRF (Weather Research & Forecasting) model. The dynamical downscaling was performed to both the GFS (Global forecast model) reanalysis (called GFS-WRF runs) from 2000-2006 and PCM (Parallel Climate Model) simulations (called PCM-WRF runs) from 1997-2006 and 2047-2056. The downscaling results were first validated by comparing current model outputs with the observational analysis PRISM (Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model) dataset. In general, the dominant features from GFS-WRF runs and PCM-WRF runs were consistent with each other, as well as with PRISM results. The influences of climate change on the California and Nevada regions can be inferred from the model future runs. The averaged temperature showed a positive trend in the future, as in other studies. The temperature increases by around 1-2A degrees C under the assumption of business as usual over 50 years. This leads to an upward shifting of the freezing level (the contour line of 0A degrees C temperature) and more rain instead of snow in winter (December, January, and February). More hot days (> 32.2A degrees C or 90A degrees F) and extreme hot days (> 37.8A degrees C or 100A degrees F) are predicted in the Sacramento Valley and the southern parts of California and Nevada during summer (June, July, and August). More precipitation is predicted in northern California but not in southern California. Rainfall frequency slightly increases in the coast regions, but not in the inland area. No obvious trend of the surface wind was indicated. The probability distribution functions (PDF) of daily temperature, wind and precipitation for California and Nevada showed no significant change in shape in either winter or summer. The spatial distributions of precipitation frequency from GFS-WRF and PCM-WRF were highly correlated (r = 0.83). However, overall positive shifts were seen in the temperature field; increases of 2A degrees C for California and 3A degrees C for Nevada in summer and 2.5A degrees C for California and 1.5A degrees C for Nevada in winter. The PDFs predicted higher precipitation in winter and lower precipitation in the summer for both California and Nevada.

Das, T, Pierce DW, Cayan DR, Vano JA, Lettenmaier DP.  2011.  The importance of warm season warming to western US streamflow changes. Geophysical Research Letters. 38   10.1029/2011gl049660   AbstractWebsite

Warm season climate warming will be a key driver of annual streamflow changes in four major river basins of the western U.S., as shown by hydrological model simulations using fixed precipitation and idealized seasonal temperature changes based on climate projections with SRES A2 forcing. Warm season (April-September) warming reduces streamflow throughout the year; streamflow declines both immediately and in the subsequent cool season. Cool season (October-March) warming, by contrast, increases streamflow immediately, partially compensating for streamflow reductions during the subsequent warm season. A uniform warm season warming of 3 C drives a wide range of annual flow declines across the basins: 13.3%, 7.2%, 1.8%, and 3.6% in the Colorado, Columbia, Northern and Southern Sierra basins, respectively. The same warming applied during the cool season gives annual declines of only 3.5%, 1.7%, 2.1%, and 3.1%, respectively. Citation: Das, T., D. W. Pierce, D. R. Cayan, J. A. Vano, and D. P. Lettenmaier (2011), The importance of warm season warming to western U. S. streamflow changes, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L23403, doi: 10.1029/2011GL049660.

Das, T, Dettinger MD, Cayan DR, Hidalgo HG.  2011.  Potential increase in floods in California's Sierra Nevada under future climate projections. Climatic Change. 109:71-94.   10.1007/s10584-011-0298-z   AbstractWebsite

California's mountainous topography, exposure to occasional heavily moisture-laden storm systems, and varied communities and infrastructures in low lying areas make it highly vulnerable to floods. An important question facing the state-in terms of protecting the public and formulating water management responses to climate change-is "how might future climate changes affect flood characteristics in California?" To help address this, we simulate floods on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the state's primary catchment, based on downscaled daily precipitation and temperature projections from three General Circulation Models (GCMs). These climate projections are fed into the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrologic model, and the VIC-simulated streamflows and hydrologic conditions, from historical and from projected climate change runs, allow us to evaluate possible changes in annual maximum 3-day flood magnitudes and frequencies of floods. By the end of the 21st Century, all projections yield larger-than-historical floods, for both the Northern Sierra Nevada (NSN) and for the Southern Sierra Nevada (SSN). The increases in flood magnitude are statistically significant (at p <= 0.01) for all the three GCMs in the period 2051-2099. The frequency of flood events above selected historical thresholds also increases under projections from CNRM CM3 and NCAR PCM1 climate models, while under the third scenario, GFDL CM2.1, frequencies remain constant or decline slightly, owing to an overall drying trend. These increases appear to derive jointly from increases in heavy precipitation amount, storm frequencies, and days with more precipitation falling as rain and less as snow. Increases in antecedent winter soil moisture also play a role in some areas. Thus, a complex, as-yet unpredictable interplay of several different climatic influences threatens to cause increased flood hazards in California's complex western Sierra landscapes.

2009
Hidalgo, HG, Das T, Dettinger MD, Cayan DR, Pierce DW, Barnett TP, Bala G, Mirin A, Wood AW, Bonfils C, Santer BD, Nozawa T.  2009.  Detection and attribution of streamflow timing changes to climate change in the western United States. Journal of Climate. 22:3838-3855.   10.1175/2009jcli2470.1   AbstractWebsite

This article applies formal detection and attribution techniques to investigate the nature of observed shifts in the timing of streamflow in the western United States. Previous studies have shown that the snow hydrology of the western United States has changed in the second half of the twentieth century. Such changes manifest themselves in the form of more rain and less snow, in reductions in the snow water contents, and in earlier snowmelt and associated advances in streamflow "center'' timing (the day in the "water-year'' on average when half the water-year flow at a point has passed). However, with one exception over a more limited domain, no other study has attempted to formally attribute these changes to anthropogenic increases of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Using the observations together with a set of global climate model simulations and a hydrologic model (applied to three major hydrological regions of the western United States-the California region, the upper Colorado River basin, and the Columbia River basin), it is found that the observed trends toward earlier "center'' timing of snowmelt-driven streamflows in the western United States since 1950 are detectably different from natural variability (significant at the p < 0.05 level). Furthermore, the nonnatural parts of these changes can be attributed confidently to climate changes induced by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, aerosols, ozone, and land use. The signal from the Columbia dominates the analysis, and it is the only basin that showed a detectable signal when the analysis was performed on individual basins. It should be noted that although climate change is an important signal, other climatic processes have also contributed to the hydrologic variability of large basins in the western United States.

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.   10.1175/2009jhm1095.1   AbstractWebsite

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.

2008
Barnett, TP, Pierce DW, Hidalgo HG, Bonfils C, Santer BD, Das T, Bala G, Wood AW, Nozawa T, Mirin AA, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD.  2008.  Human-induced changes in the hydrology of the western United States. Science. 319:1080-1083.   10.1126/science.1152538   AbstractWebsite

Observations have shown that the hydrological cycle of the western United States changed significantly over the last half of the 20th century. We present a regional, multivariable climate change detection and attribution study, using a high- resolution hydrologic model forced by global climate models, focusing on the changes that have already affected this primarily arid region with a large and growing population. The results show that up to 60% of the climate- related trends of river flow, winter air temperature, and snow pack between 1950 and 1999 are human- induced. These results are robust to perturbation of study variates and methods. They portend, in conjunction with previous work, a coming crisis in water supply for the western United States.

Pierce, DW, Barnett TP, Hidalgo HG, Das T, Bonfils C, Santer BD, Bala G, Dettinger MD, Cayan DR, Mirin A, Wood AW, Nozawa T.  2008.  Attribution of declining western US snowpack to human effects. Journal of Climate. 21:6425-6444.   10.1175/2008jcli2405.1   AbstractWebsite

Observations show snowpack has declined across much of the western United States over the period 1950-99. This reduction has important social and economic implications, as water retained in the snowpack from winter storms forms an important part of the hydrological cycle and water supply in the region. A formal model-based detection and attribution (D-A) study of these reductions is performed. The detection variable is the ratio of 1 April snow water equivalent (SWE) to water-year-to-date precipitation (P), chosen to reduce the effect of P variability on the results. Estimates of natural internal climate variability are obtained from 1600 years of two control simulations performed with fully coupled ocean-atmosphere climate models. Estimates of the SWE/P response to anthropogenic greenhouse gases, ozone, and some aerosols are taken from multiple-member ensembles of perturbation experiments run with two models. The D-A shows the observations and anthropogenically forced models have greater SWE/P reductions than can be explained by natural internal climate variability alone. Model-estimated effects of changes in solar and volcanic forcing likewise do not explain the SWE/P reductions. The mean model estimate is that about half of the SWE/P reductions observed in the west from 1950 to 1999 are the result of climate changes forced by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, ozone, and aerosols.

Bonfils, C, Santer BD, Pierce DW, Hidalgo HG, Bala G, Das T, Barnett TP, Cayan DR, Doutriaux C, Wood AW, Mirin A, Nozawa T.  2008.  Detection and attribution of temperature changes in the mountainous western United States. Journal of Climate. 21:6404-6424.   10.1175/2008jcli2397.1   AbstractWebsite

Large changes in the hydrology of the western United States have been observed since the mid-twentieth century. These include a reduction in the amount of precipitation arriving as snow, a decline in snowpack at low and midelevations, and a shift toward earlier arrival of both snowmelt and the centroid (center of mass) of streamflows. To project future water supply reliability, it is crucial to obtain a better understanding of the underlying cause or causes for these changes. A regional warming is often posited as the cause of these changes without formal testing of different competitive explanations for the warming. In this study, a rigorous detection and attribution analysis is performed to determine the causes of the late winter/early spring changes in hydrologically relevant temperature variables over mountain ranges of the western United States. Natural internal climate variability, as estimated from two long control climate model simulations, is insufficient to explain the rapid increase in daily minimum and maximum temperatures, the sharp decline in frost days, and the rise in degree-days above 0 degrees C (a simple proxy for temperature-driven snowmelt). These observed changes are also inconsistent with the model-predicted responses to variability in solar irradiance and volcanic activity. The observations are consistent with climate simulations that include the combined effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and aerosols. It is found that, for each temperature variable considered, an anthropogenic signal is identifiable in observational fields. The results are robust to uncertainties in model-estimated fingerprints and natural variability noise, to the choice of statistical down-scaling method, and to various processing options in the detection and attribution method.

2007
Maurer, EP, Stewart IT, Bonfils C, Duffy PB, Cayan D.  2007.  Detection, attribution, and sensitivity of trends toward earlier streamflow in the Sierra Nevada. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 112   10.1029/2006jd008088   AbstractWebsite

[1] Observed changes in the timing of snowmelt dominated streamflow in the western United States are often linked to anthropogenic or other external causes. We assess whether observed streamflow timing changes can be statistically attributed to external forcing, or whether they still lie within the bounds of natural ( internal) variability for four large Sierra Nevada ( CA) basins, at inflow points to major reservoirs. Streamflow timing is measured by "center timing'' (CT), the day when half the annual flow has passed a given point. We use a physically based hydrology model driven by meteorological input from a global climate model to quantify the natural variability in CT trends. Estimated 50-year trends in CT due to natural climate variability often exceed estimated actual CT trends from 1950 to 1999. Thus, although observed trends in CT to date may be statistically significant, they cannot yet be statistically attributed to external influences on climate. We estimate that projected CT changes at the four major reservoir inflows will, with 90% confidence, exceed those from natural variability within 1 - 4 decades or 4 - 8 decades, depending on rates of future greenhouse gas emissions. To identify areas most likely to exhibit CT changes in response to rising temperatures, we calculate changes in CT under temperature increases from 1 to 5 degrees. We find that areas with average winter temperatures between -2 degrees C and -4 degrees C are most likely to respond with significant CT shifts. Correspondingly, elevations from 2000 to 2800 m are most sensitive to temperature increases, with CT changes exceeding 45 days ( earlier) relative to 1961 - 1990.

2006
Knowles, N, Dettinger MD, Cayan DR.  2006.  Trends in snowfall versus rainfall in the Western United States. Journal of Climate. 19:4545-4559.   10.1175/jcli3850.1   AbstractWebsite

The water resources of the western United States depend heavily on snowpack to store part of the wintertime precipitation into the drier summer months. A well-documented shift toward earlier runoff in recent decades has been attributed to 1) more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow and 2) earlier snowmelt. The present study addresses the former, documenting a regional trend toward smaller ratios of winter-total snowfall water equivalent (SFE) to winter-total precipitation (P) during the period 1949-2004. The trends toward reduced SFE are a response to warming across the region, with the most significant reductions occurring where winter wet-day minimum temperatures, averaged over the study period, were warmer than -5 degrees C. Most SFE reductions were associated with winter wet-day temperature increases between 0 degrees and -3 degrees C over the study period. Warmings larger than this occurred mainly at sites where the mean temperatures were cool enough that the precipitation form was less susceptible to warming trends. The trends toward reduced SFE/P ratios were most pronounced in March regionwide and in January near the West Coast, corresponding to widespread warming in these months. While mean temperatures in March were sufficiently high to allow the warming trend to produce SFE/P declines across the study region, mean January temperatures were cooler, with the result that January SFE/P impacts were restricted to the lower elevations near the West Coast. Extending the analysis back to 1920 shows that although the trends presented here may be partially attributable to interdecadal climate variability associated with the Pacific decadal oscillation, they also appear to result from still longer-term climate shifts.