Seasonal hydrologic responses to climate change in the Pacific Northwest Public Deposited


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  • Increased temperatures and changes in precipitation will result in fundamental changes in the seasonal distribution of streamflow in the Pacific Northwest and will have serious implications for water resources management. To better understand local impacts of regional climate change, we conducted model experiments to determine hydrologic sensitivities of annual, seasonal, and monthly runoff to imposed annual and seasonal changes in precipitation and temperature. We used the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) land-surface hydrology model applied at 1/16° latitude-longitude spatial resolution over the Pacific Northwest (PNW), a scale sufficient to support analyses at the hydrologic unit code eight (HUC-8) basin level. These experiments resolve the spatial character of the sensitivity of future water supply to precipitation and temperature changes by identifying the seasons and locations where climate change will have the biggest impact on runoff. The PNW exhibited a diversity of responses, where transitional (intermediate elevation) watersheds experience the greatest seasonal shifts in runoff in response to cool season warming. We also developed a methodology that uses these hydrologic sensitivities as basin-specific transfer functions to estimate future changes in long-term mean monthly hydrographs directly from climate model output of precipitation and temperature. When principles of linearity and superposition apply, these transfer functions can provide feasible first-order estimates of the likely nature of future seasonal streamflow change without performing downscaling and detailed model simulations.
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  • Vano, J. A., Nijssen, B., & Lettenmaier, D. P. (2015). Seasonal hydrologic responses to climate change in the Pacific Northwest. Water Resources Research, 51(4), 1959-1976. doi:10.1002/2014WR015909
Journal Title
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  • 51
Journal Issue/Number
  • 4
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  • Support for this work was provided by NOAA's Regional Integrated Science Assessment program, grant NA10OAR4310218, to Oregon State University's Climate Impacts Research Consortium and the National Science Foundation under Award EAR-1250087 to the first author.
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