Publications

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2019
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.   10.1007/s10584-019-02371-3   AbstractWebsite

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.

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.

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.