Climate Change and...
Effects of Climate Change
- Climate Variability
- Climate Models
Effects of Climate Change
Water Resources and Water Use
ABSTRACT: A multiperiod, regional, mathematical programming model is used to evaluate the potential economic impacts of global climatic change scenarios on the US forest and agricultural sectors, including impacts on forest carbon inventories. Four scenarios of the biological response of forests to climate change (reflected by changes in forest growth rates) are drawn from a national assessment of climate change and are based on combinations of global circulation and ecological process models. These scenarios are simulated in tile the forest and agricultural sector model and results are summarized to characterize broad impacts of climate change on the sectors. We find that less cropland is projected to be converted to forests, forest inventories generally increase, and that aggregate economic impacts (across all consumers and producers in the sector) are relatively small. Producers’ income is most at risk, and impacts of global climate change on the two sectors vary over the 100-year projection period. The forest sector is found to have adjustment mechanisms that mitigate climate change impacts, including interregional migration of production, substitution in consumption, and altered stand management.
ABSTRACT: By 2025, it is estimated that around 5 billion people, out of a total population of around 8 billion, will be living in countries experiencing water stress (using more than 20% of their available resources). Climate change has the potential to impose additional pressures in some regions. This paper describes an assessment of the implications of climate change for global hydrological regimes and water resources. It uses climate change scenarios developed from Hadley Centre climate simulations (HadCM2 and HadCM3), and simulates global river flows at a spatial resolution of 0.5×0.5° using a macro-scale hydrological model. Changes in national water resources are calculated, including both internally generated runoff and upstream imports, and compared with national water use estimates developed for the United Nations Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World. Although there is variation between scenarios, the results suggest that average annual runoff will increase in high latitudes, in equatorial Africa and Asia, and southeast Asia, and will decrease in mid-latitudes and most subtropical regions. The HadCM3 scenario produces changes in runoff which are often similar to those from the HadCM2 scenarios — but there are important regional differences. The rise in temperature associated with climate change leads to a general reduction in the proportion of precipitation falling as snow, and a consequent reduction in many areas in the duration of snow cover. This has implications for the timing of streamflow in such regions, with a shift from spring snow melt to winter runoff. Under the HadCM2 ensemble mean scenario, the number of people living in countries with water stress would increase by 53 million by 2025 (relative to those who would be affected in the absence of climate change). Under the HadCM3 scenario, the number of people living in countries with water stress would rise by 113 million. However, by 2050 there would be a net reduction in populations in stressed countries under HadCM2 (of around 69 million), but an increase of 56 million under HadCM3. The study also showed that different indications of the impact of climate change on water resource stresses could be obtained using different projections of future water use. The paper emphasises the large range between estimates of “impact”, and also discusses the problems associated with the scale of analysis and the definition of indices of water resource impact.
ABSTRACT: The Colorado River supplies water to 27 million users in 7 states and 2 countries and irrigates over 3 million acres of farmland. Global climate models almost unanimously project that human-induced climate change will reduce runoff in this region by 10–30%. This work explores whether currently scheduled future water deliveries from the Colorado River system are sustainable under different climate-change scenarios. If climate change reduces runoff by 10%, scheduled deliveries will be missed ≈58% of the time by 2050. If runoff reduces 20%, they will be missed ≈88% of the time. The mean shortfall when full deliveries cannot be met increases from ≈0.5–0.7 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/yr) in 2025 to ≈1.2–1.9 bcm/yr by 2050 out of a request of ≈17.3 bcm/yr. Such values are small enough to be manageable. The chance of a year with deliveries <14.5 bcm/yr increases to 21% by midcentury if runoff reduces 20%, but such low deliveries could be largely avoided by reducing scheduled deliveries. These results are computed by using estimates of Colorado River flow from the 20th century, which was unusually wet; if the river reverts to its long-term mean, shortfalls increase another 1–1.5 bcm/yr. With either climate-change or long-term mean flows, currently scheduled future water deliveries from the Colorado River are not sustainable. However, the ability of the system to mitigate droughts can be maintained if the various users of the river find a way to reduce average deliveries.
ABSTRACT: Based upon trends in observed climate, extreme events are thought to be increasing in frequency and/or magnitude. This change in extreme events is attributed to enhancement of the hydrologic cycle caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations. Results are presented of relatively long (50 yr) regional climate model simulations of the western United States examining the sensitivity of climate and extreme events to a doubling of preindustrial atmospheric CO2 concentrations. These results indicate a shift in the temperature distribution, resulting in fewer cold days and more hot days; the largest changes occur at high elevations. The rainfall distribution is also affected; total rain increases as a result of increases in rainfall during the spring season and at higher elevations. The risk of flooding is generally increased, as is the severity of droughts and heat waves. These results, combined with results of decreased snowpack and increased evaporation, could further stress the water supply of the western United States.
CCSP, P. Backlund, A. Janetos, D. Schimel, J. Hatfield, K. Boote, P. Fay, L. Hahn, C. Izaurralde, B.A. Kimball, T. Mader, J. Morgan, D. Ort, W. Polley, A. Thomson, D. Wolfe, M. Ryan, S. Archer, R. Birdsey, C. Dahm, L. Heath, J. Hicke, D. Hollinger, T. Huxman, G. Okin, R. Oren, J. Randerson, W. Schlesinger, D. Lettenmaier, D. Major, L. Poff, S. Running, L. Hansen, D. Inouye, B.P. Kelly, L Meyerson, B. Peterson, R. Shaw (2008a). The effects of climate change on agriculture, land resources, water resources, and biodiversity. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: 362 p.
- Climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so.
- Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will increase the risk of crop failures, particularly if precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.
- Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.
- Forests in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska are already being affected by climate change with increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality. These changes are expected to continue.
- Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.
- Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2 . Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
- There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.
- Horticultural crops (such as tomato, onion, and fruit) are more sensitive to climate change than grains and oilseed crops.
- Young forests on fertile soils will achieve higher productivity from elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nitrogen deposition and warmer temperatures will increase productivity in other types of forests where water is available.
- Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increase fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.
- A continuation of the trend toward increased water use efficiency could help mitigate the impacts of climate change on water resources.
M.M. Elsner, L. Cuo, N. Voisin, J. Deems, A.F. Hamlet, J. Vano, K.E.B. Mickelson, S.Y. Lee, D.P. Lettenmaier (2009). Implications of 21st century climate change for the hydrology of Washington State. Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington: 66 p.
ABSTRACT: The hydrology of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is particularly sensitive to changes in climate because seasonal runoff is dominated by snowmelt from cool season mountain snowpack, and temperature changes impact the balance of precipitation falling as rain and snow. Based on results from 39 global simulations performed for the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4), PNW temperatures are projected to increase an average of approximately 0.3°C per decade over the 21st century, while changes in annual mean precipitation are projected to be modest, with a projected increase of 1% by the 2020s and 2% by the 2040s.
Based on IPCC AR4 projections, we updated previous studies of implications of climate change on the hydrology of the PNW. In particular, we used results from 20 global climate models (GCMs) and two emissions scenarios from the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES): A1B and B1. PNW 21st century hydrology was simulated using the full suite of GCMs and 2 SRES emissions scenarios over Washington, as well as focus regions of the Columbia River basin, the Yakima River basin, and those Puget Sound river basins that supply much of the basin’s municipal water supply. Using two hydrological models, we evaluated projected changes in snow water equivalent, seasonal soil moisture and runoff for the entire state and case study watersheds for A1B and B1 SRES emissions scenarios for the 2020s, 2040s, and 2080s. We then evaluated future projected changes in seasonal streamflow in Washington.
April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) is projected to decrease by an average of approximately 27-29% across the State by the 2020s, 37-44% by the 2040s and 53-65% by the 2080s, based on the composite scenarios of B1 and A1B, respectively, which represent average effects of all climate models. In three relatively warm transient watersheds west of the Cascade crest, April 1 SWE is projected to almost completely disappear by the 2080s. By the 2080s, seasonal streamflow timing will shift significantly in both snowmelt dominant and transient, rain-snow mixed watersheds. Annual runoff across the State is projected to increase by 0-2% by the 2020s, 2-3% by the 2040s, and 4-6% by the 2080s; these changes are mainly driven by projected increases in winter precipitation.
ABSTRACT: methods of downscaling seasonal temperature and precipitation to interpret the implications of alternative climate scenarios on PNW water resources.Ongoing research by the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington focuses on the use of recent advances in climate research to improve streamflow forecasts at seasonal-to-interannual, decadal, and longer time scales. Seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasting capabilities have advanced significantly in the past several years, primarily because of improvements in the understanding of, and an ability to forecast, El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) at seasonal/interannual time scales, and because of better understanding of longer time scale climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). These phenomena exert strong controls on climate variability along the Pacific Coast of North America.
The streamflow forecasting techniques we have developed for Pacific Northwest (PNW) rivers are based on climate forecasts that facilitate longer lead times (as much as a year) than the methods that are traditionally used for water management (maximum forecast lead times of a few months). At interannual time scales, the simplest of these techniques involves resampling meteorological data from previous years identified to be in similar climate categories as are forecast for the coming year. These data are then used to drive a hydrology model, which produces an ensemble of streamflow forecasts that are analogous to those that result from the well-known Extended Streamflow Prediction (ESP) method. This technique is a relatively simple, but effective, way of incorporating long-lead climate information into streamflow forecasts. It faithfully captures the history of observed climate variability. Its main limitation is that the sample size of observed events for some climate categories is small because of the length of the historic record. Furthermore, it is unable to capture important aspects of global change, which may interact with shorter term variations through changes in climate phenomena like ENSO and PDO. An alternative to the resampling method is to use nested regional climate models to produce the long-lead climate forecasts. Success using this approach has been hindered to some degree by the bias that is inherent in climate models, even when downscaled using regional nested modeling approaches. Adjustment or correction for this bias is central to the use of climate model output for hydrologic forecasting purposes. Approaches for dealing with climate model bias in the context of global and meso-scale are presently an area of active research.We illustrate an experimental application of the nested climate modeling approach for the Columbia River Basin, and compare it with the simpler resampling method.
At much longer time scales, changes in Columbia River flows that might be associated with global climate change are of considerable concern in the PNW, given recent Endangered Species Act listing of certain salmonid species, and the increase in water demand that is expected to follow increases in human population in the region. Many of the same general challenges associated with the spatial downscaling of climate forecasts are present in these long-range investigations. Additional uncertainties exist in the ability of climate models to predict the effects of changing greenhouse gas concentrations. These uncertainties tend to dominate the results, and lead us to use relatively simple methods of downscaling seasonal temperature and precipitation to interpret the implications of alternative climate scenarios on PNW water resources.
A. K. Snover, A. F. Hamlet, D. P. Lettenmaier (2003). Climate-change scenarios for water planning studies: Pilot applications in the Pacific Northwest. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84 (11): 1513-1518
FIRST PARAGRAPH: Despite uncertainties in predictions of the magnitude and timing of anthropogenic climate change, many Pacific Northwest (PNW) water managers now recognize climate change as a significant issue that should be addressed in water resources planning. This represents a significant change over the last several years. These managers are requesting detailed information about potential climate impacts on their systems, in a form suitable for inclusion in planning.
Zhu, C., D.W. Pierce, T.P. Barnett, A.W. Wood, D.P. Lettenmaier (2004). Evaluation of hydrologically relevant PCM climate variables and large-scale variability over the western U.S.. Climatic Change 62 (1): 45-74
ABSTRACT: The ability of the Parallel Climate Model (PCM) to reproduce the mean and variability of hydrologically relevant climate variables was evaluated by comparing PCM historical climate runs with observations over temporal scales from sub-daily to annual. The domain was the continental U.S, and the model spatial resolution was T42 (about 2.8 degrees latitude by longitude). The climate variables evaluated include precipitation, surface air temperature, net surface solar radiation, soil moisture, and snow water equivalent. The results show that PCM has a winter dry bias in the Pacific Northwest and a summer wet bias in the central plains. The diurnal precipitation variation in summer is much stronger than observed, with an afternoon maximum in summer precipitation over much of the U.S. interior, in contrast with an observed nocturnal maximum in parts of the interior. PCM has a cold bias in annual mean temperature over most of the U.S., with deviations as large as –8 K. The PCM daily temperature range is lower than observed, especiallyin the central U.S. PCM generally overestimates the net solar radiation over most of the U.S, although the diurnal cycle is simulated well in spring, summer and winter. In autumn PCM has a pronounced noontime peak in solar radiation that differs by 5–10% from observations. PCM'ssimulated soil moisture is less variable than that of a sophisticated land-surface hydrology model, especially in the interior of the country. PCM simulates the wetter conditions over the southeastern U.S. and California during warm (El Niño) events, but shifts the drier conditions in the Pacific Northwest northward and underestimates their magnitude. The temperature response to the North Pacific Oscillation is generally captured by PCM, but the amplitude of this response is overestimated by a factor of about two.
ABSTRACT: Current perspectives on global climate change based on recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are presented. Impacts of a greenhouse warming that are likely to affect water planning and evaluation include changes in precipitation and runoff patterns, sea level rise, land use and population shifts following from these effects, and changes in water demands. Irrigation water demands are particularly sensitive to changes in precipitation, temperature, and carbon dioxide levels. Despite recent advances in climate change science, great uncertainty remains as to how and when climate will change and how these changes will affect the supply and demand for water at the river basin and watershed levels, which are of most interest to planners. To place the climate-induced uncertainties in perspective, the influence on the supply and demand for water of non-climate factors such as population, technology, economic conditions, social and political factors, and the values society places on alternative water uses are considered.
Conway, D., Hulme, M. (1996). The impacts of climate variability and future climate change in the Nile basin on water resources in Egypt. International Journal of Water Resources Development 12 (3): 277-296
ABSTRACT: This paper describes the application of hydrologic models of the Blue Nile and Lake Victoria sub-basins to assess the magnitude of potential impacts of climate change on Main Nile discharge. The models are calibrated to simulate historical observed runoff and then driven with the temperature and precipitation changes from three general circulation model (GCM) climate scenarios. The differences in the resulting magnitude and direction of changes in runoff highlight the inter-model differences in future climate change scenarios. A 'wet' case, 'dry' case and composite case produced +15 (+12), -9 (-9) and + 1(+7) per cent changes in mean annual Blue Nile (Lake Victoria) runoff for 2025, respectively. These figures are used to estimate changes in the availability of Nile water in Egypt by making assumptions about the runoff response in the other Nile sub-basins and the continued use of the Nile Waters Agreement. Comparison of these availability scenarios with demand projections for Egypt show a slight surplus of water in 2025 with and without climate change. If, however, water demand for desert reclamation is taken into account then water deficits occur for the present-day situation and also 2025 with ('dry' case GCM only) and without climate change. A revision of Egypt's allocation of Nile water based on the recent low-flow decade-mean flows of the Nile (1981-90) shows that during this period Egypt's water use actually exceeded availability. The magnitude of 'natural' fluctuations in discharge therefore has very important consequences for water resource management regardless of future climate change.
ABSTRACT: The world’s climate is changing and will continue to change into the coming century at rates projected to be unprecedented in recent human history. The risks associated with these changes are real but highly uncertain. Societal vulnerability to the risks associated with climate change may exacerbate ongoing social and economic challenges, particularly for those parts of societies dependent on resources that are sensitive to changes in climate. Risks are apparent in agriculture, fisheries and many other components that constitute the livelihood of rural populations in developing countries. In this paper we explore the nature of risk and vulnerability in the context of climate change and review the evidence on present-day adaptation in developing countries and on coordinated international action on future adaptation. We argue that all societies are fundamentally adaptive and there are many situations in the past where societies have adapted to changes in climate and to similar risks. But some sectors are more sensitive and some groups in society more vulnerable to the risks posed by climate change than others. Yet all societies need to enhance their adaptive capacity to face both present and future climate change outside their experienced coping range. The challenges of climate change for development are in the present. Observed climate change, present-day climate variability and future expectations of change are changing the course of development strategies - development agencies and governments are now planning for this adaptation challenge. The primary challenge, therefore, posed at both the scale of local natural resource management and at the scale of international agreements and actions, is to promote adaptive capacity in the context of competing sustainable development objectives.
P. W. Mote, E. A. Parson, A. F. Hamlet, W. S. Keeton, D. Lettenmaier, N. Mantua, E. L. Miles, D. W. Peterson, D. L. Peterson, R. Slaughter, A. K. Snover (2003). Preparing for climatic change: the water, salmon, and forests of the Pacific Northwest. Climatic Change 61 (1-2): 45-88
ABSTRACT: The impacts of year-to-year and decade-to-decade climatic variations on some of the Pacific Northwest's key natural resources can be quantified to estimate sensitivity to regional climatic changes expected as part of anthropogenic global climatic change. Warmer, drier years, often associated with El Niño events and/or the warm phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, tend to be associated with below-average snowpack, streamflow, and flood risk, below-average salmon survival, below-average forest growth, and above-average risk of forest fire. During the 20th century, the region experienced a warming of 0.8 °C. Using output from eight climate models, we project a further warming of 0.5–2.5 °C (central estimate 1.5 °C) by the 2020s, 1.5–3.2 °C (2.3 °C) by the 2040s, and an increase in precipitation except in summer. The foremost impact of a warming climate will be the reduction of regional snowpack, which presently supplies water for ecosystems and human uses during the dry summers. Our understanding of past climate also illustrates the responses of human management systems to climatic stresses, and suggests that a warming of the rate projected would pose significant challenges to the management of natural resources. Resource managers and planners currently have few plans for adapting to or mitigating the ecological and economic effects of climatic change.
Thomson, A.M., R.A. Brown, N.J. Rosenberg, R. César Izaurralde, D.M. Legler, R. Srinivasan (2003). Simulated impacts of El Niño/Southern Oscillation on United States water resources. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 39 (1): 137-148
ABSTRACT: The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena alter global weather patterns with consequences for fresh water supply. ENSO events impact regions and their natural resource sectors around the globe. For example, in 1997 and 1998, a strong El Niño brought warm ocean temperatures, flooding, and record snowfall to the west coast of the United States. Research on ENSO events has improved long range climate predictions, affording the potential to reduce the damage and economic cost of these weather patterns. Here, using the Hydrologic Unit Model for the United States (HUMUS), we simulate the impacts of four types of ENSO states (Neutral, El Niño, La Niña, and strong El Niño) on water resources in the conterminous United States. The simulations show that La Niña conditions increase water yield across much of the country. We find that water yield increases during El Niño years across the south while declining in much of the rest of the country. However, under strong El Niño conditions, regional water yields are much higher than Neutral, especially along the West Coast. Strong El Niño is not simply an amplification of El Niño; it leads to strikingly different patterns of water resource response.
ABSTRACT: To study the impacts of climate change on water resources in the western U.S., global climate simulations were produced using the National Center for Atmospheric Research/Department of Energy (NCAR/DOE) Parallel Climate Model (PCM). The Penn State/NCAR Mesoscale Model (MM5) was used to downscale the PCM control (20 years) and three future (2040–2060) climate simulations to yield ensemble regional climate simulations at 40 km spatial resolution for the western U.S. This paper describes the regional simulations and focuses on the hydroclimate conditions in the Columbia River Basin (CRB) and Sacramento-San Joaquin River (SSJ) Basin. Results based on global and regional simulations show that by mid-century, the average regional warming of 1 to 2.5 °C strongly affects snowpack in the western U.S. Along coastal mountains, reduction in annual snowpack was about 70% as indicated by the regional simulations. Besides changes in mean temperature, precipitation, and snowpack, cold season extreme daily precipitation increased by 5 to 15 mm/day (15–20%) along the Cascades and the Sierra. The warming resulted in increased rainfall at the expense of reduced snowfall, and reduced snow accumulation (or earlier snowmelt) during the cold season. In the CRB, these changes were accompanied by more frequent rain-on-snow events. Overall, they induced higher likelihood of wintertime flooding and reduced runoff and soil moisture in the summer. Changes in surface water and energy budgets in the CRB and SSJ basin were affected mainly by changes in surface temperature, which were statistically significant at the 0.95 confidence level. Changes in precipitation, while spatially incoherent, were not statistically significant except for the drying trend during summer. Because snow and runoff are highly sensitive to spatial distributions of temperature and precipitation, this study shows that (1) downscaling provides more realistic estimates of hydrologic impacts in mountainous regions such as the western U.S., and (2) despite relatively small changes in temperature and precipitation, changes in snowpack and runoff can be much larger on monthly to seasonal time scales because the effects of temperature and precipitation are integrated over time and space through various surface hydrological and land-atmosphere feedback processes. Although the results reported in this study were derived from an ensemble of regional climate simulations driven by a global climate model that displays low climate sensitivity compared with most other models, climate change was found to significantly affect water resources in the western U.S. by the mid twenty-first century.
ABSTRACT: Effective planning for use of water resources requires accurate information on hydrologic variability induced by climatic fluctuations. Tree-ring analysis is one method of extending our knowledge of hydrologic variability beyond the relatively short period covered by gaged streamfiow records. In this paper, a network of recently developed tree-ring chronologies is used to reconstruct annual river discharge in the upper Gila River drainage in southeastern Arizona and southwestern Arizona since A.D. 1663. The need for data on hydrologic variability for this semi-arid basin is accentuated because water supply is inadequate to meet current demand. A reconstruction based on multiple linear regression (R^2=0.66) indicates that 20th century is unusual for clustering of high-discharge years (early 1900s), severity of multiyear drought (1950s), and amplification of low-frequency discharge variations. Periods of low discharge recur at irregular intervals averaging about 20 years. Comparison with other tree-ring reconstructions shows that these low-flow periods are synchronous from the Gila Basin to the southern part of the Upper Colorado River Basin.
ABSTRACT: This paper considers the risk of drought and develops drought scenarios for use in the study of severe sustained drought in the southwestern United States. The focus is on the Colorado River basin and regions to which Colorado River water is exported, especially southern California, which depends on water from the Colorado River as well as the four major rivers in northern California. Drought scenarios are developed using estimates of unimpaired historic streamflow as well as reconstructions of streamflow based on tree ring widths. Drought scenarios in the Colorado River are defined on the basis of annual flow at Lees Ferry. Possible spatial manifestations of the Colorado River drought scenarios for input into a Colorado River system simulation model are developed by disaggregating the Lees Ferry flow to monthly flows at 29 source locations required by the model. The risk, in terms of return period, of the drought scenarios developed, is assessed using stochastic models applied to both the Colorado River basin and the combined flow in four major California rivers. The risk of severe sustained drought occurring concurrently in the Colorado River basin and California is also assessed.
ABSTRACT: Global climate change due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has serious potential impacts on water resources in the Pacific Northwest. Climate scenarios produced by general circulation models (GCMs) do not provide enough spatial specificity for studying water resources in mountain watersheds. This study uses dynamical downscaling with a regional climate model (RCM) driven by a GCM to simulate climate change scenarios. The RCM uses a subgrid parameterization of orographic precipitation and land surface cover to simulate surface climate at the spatial scale suitable for the representation of topographic effects over mountainous regions. Numerical experiments have been performed to simulate the present-day climatology and the climate conditions corresponding to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration. The RCM results indicate an average warming of about 2.5°C, and precipitation generally increases over the Pacific Northwest and decreases over California. These simulations were used to drive a distributed hydrology model of two snow dominated watersheds, the American River and Middle Fork Flathead, in the Pacific Northwest to obtain more detailed estimates of the sensitivity of water resources to climate change. Results show that as more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow in the warmer climate, there is a 60 percent reduction in snowpack and a significant shift in the seasonal pattern of streamfiow in the American River. Much less drastic changes are found in the Middle Fork Flathead where snowpack is only reduced by 18 percent and the seasonal pattern of streamflow remains intact. This study shows that the impacts of climate change on water resources are highly region specific. Furthermore, under the specific climate change scenario, the impacts are largely driven by the warming trend rather than the precipitation trend, which is small.
ABSTRACT: As part of the National Assessment of Climate Change, the implications of future climate predictions derived from four global climate models (GCMs) were used to evaluate possible future changes to Pacific Northwest climate, the surface water response of the Columbia River basin, and the ability of the Columbia River reservoir system to meet regional water resources objectives. Two representative GCM simulations from the Hadley Centre (HC) and Max Planck Institute (MPI) were selected from a group of GCM simulations made available via the National Assessment for climate change. From these simulations, quasi-stationary, decadal mean temperature and precipitation changes were used to perturb historical records of precipitation and temperature data to create inferred conditions for 2025, 2045, and 2095. These perturbed records, which represent future climate in the experiments, were used to drive a macro-scale hydrology model of the Columbia River at 118 degree resolution. The altered streamfiows simulated for each scenario were, in turn, used to drive a reservoir model, from which the ability of the system to meet water resources objectives was determined relative to a simulated hydrologic base case (current climate). Although the two GCM simulations showed somewhat different seasonal patterns for temperature change, in general the simulations show reasonably consistent basin average increases in temperature of about 1.8-2.1°C for 2025, and about 2.32.9°C for 2045. The HC simulations predict an annual average temperature increase of about 4.5°C for 2095. Changes in basin averaged winter precipitation range from -1 percent to +20 percent for the HC and MPI scenarios, and summer precipitation is also variously affected. These changes in climate result in significant increases in winter runoff volumes due to increased winter precipitation and warmer winter temperatures, with resulting reductions in snowpack. Average March 1 basin average snow water equivalents are 75 to 85 percent of the base case for 2025, and 55 to 65 percent of the base case by 2045. By 2045 the reduced snowpack and earlier snow melt, coupled with higher evapotranspiration in early summer, would lead to earlier spring peak flows and reduced runoff volumes from April-September ranging from about 75 percent to 90 percent of the base case. Annual runoff volumes range from 85 percent to 110 percent of the base case in the simulations for 2045. These changes in streamfiow create increased competition for water during the spring, summer, and early fall between nonfirm energy production, irrigation, instream flow, and recreation. Flood control effectiveness is moderately reduced for most of the scenarios examined, and desirable navigation conditions on the Snake are generally enhanced or unchanged. Current levels of winter-dominated firm energy production are only significantly impacted for the MPI 2045 simulations.
ABSTRACT: Changes in the climatology of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and soil moisture lead also to changes in runoff and streamflow. The potential effects of global warming on the hydrology of 23 major rivers are investigated. The runoff simulated by the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis (CCCma) coupled climate model for the current climate is routed through the river system to the river mouth and compared with results for the warmer climate simulated to occur towards the end of the century. Changes in mean discharge, in the amplitude and phase of the annual streamflow cycle, in the annual maximum discharge (the flood) and its standard deviation, and in flow duration curves are all examined. Changes in flood magnitudes for different return periods are estimated using extreme value analysis. In the warmer climate, there is a general decrease in runoff and 15 out of the 23 rivers considered experience a reduction in annual mean discharge (with a median reduction of 32%). The changes in runoff are not uniform and discharge increases for 8 rivers (with a median increase of 13%). Middle- and high-latitude rivers typically show marked changes in the amplitude and phase of their annual cycle associated with a decrease in snowfall and an earlier spring melt in the warmer climate. Low-latitude rivers exhibit changes in mean discharge but modest changes in their annual cycle. The analysis of annual flood magnitudes show that 17 out of 23 rivers experience a reduction in mean annual flood (a median reduction of 20%). Changes in flow duration curves are used to characterize the different kinds of behavior exhibited by different groups of rivers. Differences in the regional distribution of simulated precipitation and runoff for the control simulation currently limit the application of the approach. The inferred hydrological changes are, nevertheless, plausible and consistent responses to simulated changes in precipitation and evapotranspiration and indicate the kinds of hydrological changes that could occur in a warmer climate.
ABSTRACT: Computer simulation models are increasingly being proposed as tools capable of giving water resource managers accurate predictions of the impact of changes in land-use and climate. Previous validation testing of catchment models is reviewed, and it is concluded that the methods used do not clearly test a model's fitness for such a purpose. A new generally applicable method is proposed. This involves the direct testing of fitness for purpose, uses established scientific techniques, and may be implemented within a quality assured programme of work. The new method is applied in Part 2 of this study (Parkin et al., J. Hydrol., 175:595–613, 1996).
ABSTRACT: Water availability on the continents is important for human health economic activity, ecosystem function and geophysical processes. Because the saturation vapour pressure of water in air is highly sensitive to temperature, perturbations in the global water cycle are expected to accompany climate warming. Regional patterns of warming-induced changes in surface hydroclimate are complex and less certain than those in temperature, however, with both regional increases and decreases expected in precipitation and runoff. Here we show that an ensemble of 12 climate models exhibits qualitative and statistically significant skill in simulating observed regional patterns of twentieth-century multidecadal changes in streamflow. These models project 10–40% increases in runoff in eastern equatorial Africa, the La Plata basin and high-latitude North America and Eurasia, and 10–30% decreases in runoff in southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East and mid-latitude western North America by the year 2050. Such changes in sustainable water availability would have considerable regional-scale consequences for economies as well as ecosystems.
ABSTRACT: Changes in Arctic sea ice cover have the potential to impact midlatitude climate. A previous sensitivity study utilizing the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) atmospheric general circulation model [AGCM; Community Climate Model, version 3 (CCM3)] to explore climate sensitivity to declining Arctic sea ice cover suggested that, as Arctic sea ice cover is reduced, precipitation patterns over western North America will shift toward dryer conditions in southwestern North America and wetter conditions in northwestern North America. Here, three complementary lines of research validate and explore the robustness of this possible climate change impact: 1) repetition of the previous sensitivity study (specified constant Arctic sea ice cover and atmospheric CO2 ) with an updated version of the NCAR AGCM [third Community Atmosphere Model (CAM3)], 2) investigation of the climate response to dynamically reduced Arctic sea ice cover (driven by a quadrupling of atmospheric CO2 ) in the coupled NCAR Community Climate System Model (CCSMv3), and 3) analysis of similar results from six other coupled climate system models. Results from the CAM3 sensitivity study are similar to those from the original study with declining Arctic sea ice cover driving up to 25% less mean annual precipitation (MAP) over southwestern North America and up to an 8% increase in MAP over northwestern North America. The seven coupled models also reproduce this same general pattern. At the time of CO2 quadrupling, Arctic sea ice cover is reduced (up to 90% in boreal winter) and MAP over southwestern North America decreases by up to 30% while MAP in northwestern North America increases by up to 40%. These results represent a significant shift in the precipitation pattern over western North America and support the findings of the original sensitivity study in suggesting that, as future reductions in Arctic sea ice cover take place, there will be a substantial impact on water resources in western North America.
N. S. Christensen, A. W. Wood, N. Voisin, D. P. Lettenmaier, R. N. Palmer (2004). The effects of climate change on the hydrology and water resources of the Colorado River basin. Climatic Change 62 (1-3): 337-363
ABSTRACT: The potential effects of climate change on the hydrology and water resources of the Colorado River basin are assessed by comparing simulated hydrologic and water resources scenarios derived from downscaled climate simulations of the U.S. Department of Energy/National Center for Atmospheric Research Parallel Climate Model (PCM) to scenarios driven by observed historical (1950–1999) climate. PCM climate scenarios include an ensemble of three 105-year future climate simulations based on projected `business-as-usual' (BAU) greenhouse gas emissions and a control climate simulation based on static 1995 greenhouse gas concentrations. Downscaled transient temperature and precipitation sequences were extracted from PCM simulations, and were used to drive the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) macroscale hydrology model to produce corresponding streamflow sequences. Results for the BAU scenarios were summarized into Periods 1, 2, and 3 (2010–2039, 2040–2069, 2070–2098). Average annual temperature changes for the Colorado River basin were 0.5 °C warmer for control climate, and 1.0, 1.7, and 2.4 °C warmer for Periods 1–3, respectively, relative to the historical climate. Basin-average annual precipitation for the control climate was slightly (1%) less than for observed historical climate, and 3, 6, and 3% less for future Periods 1–3, respectively. Annual runoff in the control run was about 10% lower than for simulated historical conditions, and 14, 18, and 17% less for Periods 1–3, respectively. Analysis of water management operations using a water management model driven by simulated streamflows showed that streamflows associated with control and future BAU climates would significantly degrade the performance of the water resources system relative to historical conditions, with average total basin storage reduced by 7% for the control climate and 36, 32 and 40% for Periods 1–3, respectively. Releases from Glen Canyon Dam to the Lower Basin (mandated by the Colorado River Compact) were met in 80% of years for the control climate simulation (versus 92% in the historical climate simulation), and only in 59–75% of years for the future climate runs. Annual hydropower output was also significantly reduced for the control and future climate simulations. The high sensitivity of reservoir system performance for future climate is a reflection of the fragile equilibrium that now exists in operation of the system, with system demands only slightly less than long-term mean annual inflow.
Jain, S., Woodhouse, C. A., Hoerling, M. P. (2002). Multidecadal streamflow regimes in the interior western United States: Implications for the vulnerability of water resources. Geophysical Research Letters 29 (21): 2036
ABSTRACT: In the interior western United States, increased demand for water coupled with the uncertain nature of anthropogenic and natural hydroclimatic variations add challenges to the task of assessing the adequacy of the existing regional water resources systems. Current availability of relatively short instrumental streamflow records further limits the diagnosis of multidecadal and longer time variations. Here we develop a long-term perspective of streamflow variations using a 285-year long tree-ring reconstruction at Middle Boulder Creek, Colorado. Analysis of the reconstructed streamflow provides useful insights for assessing vulnerability: (a) a wider range of hydrologic variations on multidecadal time scales, not seen in the instrumental record, (b) wet/dry regimes show disparate fluctuations across various flow thresholds, and (c) temporal changes in the flow probabilities have varied “flavors” corresponding to wet and dry regimes and their spatial extent. Based on these results, we discuss implications for the climate-related vulnerability of regional water resources.
ABSTRACT: Global climate change will affect the terrestrial biosphere primarily through changes in regional energy and water balance. Changes in soil moisture and evapotranspiration will particularly affect water and forest resources. Existing spatially lumped hydrologic models are not adequate to analyze the potential effects of climate change on the regional water balance over large river basins or regions primarily because they do not satisfactorily account for the spatial and temporal variability of hydrologic processes. Here we summarize application of a spatially distributed water balance model that was tested using historical data from the U. S. portion of the Columbia River Basin In the Pacific Northwest for a very dry (1977) and very wet (1972) water year. The model adequately partitions incoming precipitation into evapotranspiration and runoff. Because precipitation in the basin is underestimated from measured data, modeled runoff is less than measured runoff from the basin during both the wet and dry years The potential effects of climate change on runoff and soil moisture in the Columbia River Basin were simulated using 2xCO2 scenario data from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) general circulation model (GCM). The predicted future climate conditions significantly increase potential evapotranspiration, causing a 20% reduction in runoff relative to input precipitation, and a 58 % reduction in soil moisture storage. If these changes in regional water balance are realized the distribution and composition of forests in the Northwest would change markedly, and water resources would become more limited. Because of uncertainties in future climate scenarios, and limitations in the implementation of the water balance model, the 2xCO2 results should be viewed only as a sensitivity analysis.
ABSTRACT: All currently available climate models predict a near-surface warming trend under the influence of rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In addition to the direct effects on climate—for example, on the frequency of heatwaves—this increase in surface temperatures has important consequences for the hydrological cycle, particularly in regions where water supply is currently dominated by melting snow or ice. In a warmer world, less winter precipitation falls as snow and the melting of winter snow occurs earlier in spring. Even without any changes in precipitation intensity, both of these effects lead to a shift in peak river runoff to winter and early spring, away from summer and autumn when demand is highest. Where storage capacities are not sufficient, much of the winter runoff will immediately be lost to the oceans. With more than one-sixth of the Earth's population relying on glaciers and seasonal snow packs for their water supply, the consequences of these hydrological changes for future water availability—predicted with high confidence and already diagnosed in some regions—are likely to be severe.
ABSTRACT: Fresh waters are central to society and to the environment. Nevertheless, ongoing and projected changes in the distribution, abundance, and quality of water resources and freshwater ecosystems represent a serious threat to the integrity of the environment as well as the vitality of human cultures. Nearly every country in the world experiences regular water shortages, agriculture uses most of the world's available fresh water, and most illnesses in developing countries result from waterborne parasites and pathogens. Unfortunately, often hidden in these and other depressing statistics are the needs of the environment for adequate water to maintain vibrant ecosystems. Understanding the abilities and limits of freshwater ecosystems to respond to human-generated pressures is becoming a central issue for cultures and a challenge for science. This article explores trends in alterations to freshwater ecosystems, discusses the ecological consequences of biophysical alterations expected to occur in the next 20–30 years, and identifies some of the major scientific challenges and opportunities to effectively address the changes. Topics discussed include altered hydrological regimes, biogeochemical cycles, altered land use, riparian management, life history strategies, and relations between climate change and water resource management.
Saunders, J.F., III, M. Murphy, M. Clark, W. M. Lewis, Jr. (2004). The influence of climate variation in the estimation of low flows used to protect water quality: a nationwide assessment. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 40 (5): 1339-1349
ABSTRACT: Historical flow records are used to estimate the regulatory low flows that serve a key function in setting discharge permit limits through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which provides a nationwide mechanism for protecting water quality. Use of historical records creates an implicit connection between water quality protection and climate variability. The longer the record, the more likely the low flow estimate will be based on a broad set of climate conditions, and thus provides adequate water quality protection in the future. Unfortunately, a long record often is not available at a specific location. This analysis examines the connection between climate variability and the variability of biologically based and hydrologically based low flow estimates at 176 sites from the Hydro-Climatic Data Network, a collection of stream gages identified by the USGS as relatively free of anthropogenic influences. Results show that a record of 10 to 20 years is necessary for satisfactory estimates of regulatory low flows. Although it is possible to estimate a biologically based low flow from a record of less than 10 years, these estimates are highly uncertain and incorporate a bias that undermines water quality protection.
ABSTRACT: Emerging issues in watershed management include the need to assess the effects of management activities on a time scale of several cutting rotations (>100 years) and on spatial scales that encompass influences from beyond watershed boundaries. Long-range analysis indicates that today’s activities will have strong, long-lasting effects, though the ecological consequences may not be visible when the analysis horizon spans only a few decades. Land use decisions within watersheds are increasingly influenced by broader social, economic, and biological factors (e.g., wildlife management plans, such as the Northern Spotted Owl Conservation Strategy). Global climate change poses an even greater potential for altering watershed management. Consequently, improved social and technical tools are needed for planning management of multiple resources in an increasingly uncertain world.
Barnett, T., R. Malone, W. Pennell, D. Stammer, B. Semtner, W. Washington (2004). The effects of climate change on water resources in the west: introduction and overview. Climatic Change 62 (1-3): 1-11
ABSTRACT: The results of an experimental 'end to end' assessment of the effects of climate change on water resources in the western United States are described. The assessment focuses on the potential effects of climate change over the first half of the 21st century on the Columbia, Sacramento/San Joaquin, and Colorado river basins. The paper describes the methodology used for the assessment, and it summarizes the principal findings of the study. The strengths and weaknesses of this study are discussed, and suggestions are made for improving future climate change assessments.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The availability of freshwater to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly affluent population while sustaining a healthy environment has emerged as one of the nation's primary resource issues. Concerns about water are based in part on uncertainties over the availability of supplies stemming from the vicissitudes of the hydrologic cycle, growing populations, and the prospect that greenhouse gas-induced climate changes will alter the cycle in uncertain ways.
Global climatic changes will have major effects on precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff. But estimating the nature, timing, and even the direction of the impacts at the regional and local scales of primary interest to water planners involves many uncertainties. While specific regional impacts will depend on future climate changes as well as uncertain economic, institutional, and structural conditions, some consistent and robust results can be described.
In the relatively arid and semiarid western United States, modest changes in precipitation can have proportionally large impacts on water supplies. In mountainous watersheds, higher temperatures will increase the ratio of rain to snow, accelerate the rate of spring snowmelt, and shorten the overall snowfall season, leading to more rapid, earlier, and greater spring runoff. Because the temperature projections of climate models are less speculative than the projections of precipitation, temperature-induced shifts in the relative amounts of rain and snow and in the timing of snowmelt in mountainous areas are considered likely. Coping strategies should now be explored.
Where extensive water systems have been built, there are untapped opportunities for rethinking operating and management rules. At the same time, where water systems are already under stress because of limited supplies or water-quality problems, climatic changes may impose different and greater stresses than those already anticipated by water planners.
Climate-induced changes in hydrology will affect the magnitude, frequency, and costs of extreme events, which produce the greatest economic and social costs to humans. Flooding, the nation's most costly and destructive natural disaster, could become more common and extreme. Recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that a greenhouse warming is likely to increase the number of intense precipitation days and flood frequencies in northern latitudes and snowmelt-driven basins. These reports also suggest that the frequency and severity of droughts could increase in some areas as a result of a decrease in total rainfall, more frequent dry spells, and greater evapotranspiration.
Many different general circulation models (GCMs) have been developed and improved over the past decades to understand the implications of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases on the climate. The ongoing National Assessment of the impacts of climate change on the United States is evaluating the implications of two different models - the Hadley and Canadian GCMs. Estimates of the impact of climate change on runoff within the water resource basins and subbasins in the conterminous United States using the outputs of these two general circulation models show similarities and sharp differences. For both models, temperatures and potential evapotranspiration rise significantly by 2100. But the uncertainties about the implications of climate change for water resources are illustrated by the contrasting projections of runoff based on these models. Estimates based on the Hadley model indicate flooding could increase in much of the country, while those based on the Canadian climate model indicate increased water scarcity would pervade much of the country. Both scenarios could result in sharply higher socioeconomic costs. Results based on these GCM outputs as well as more detailed regional studies emphasize two points: the detailed regional impacts of a greenhouse warming on future water supplies are uncertain, and runoff is sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation.
Climatic changes will affect the demand as well as the supply of water. These changes may influence a wide range of water-system components, including reservoir operations, water quality, hydroelectric generation, and navigation. Irrigation, the largest consumer of U.S. water, is particularly sensitive to climate conditions; demand for irrigation water tends to increase as conditions become hotter and drier. Instream water uses such as hydroelectric power generation, navigation, recreation, and ecosystem maintenance are also sensitive to changes in the quantity, quality, and timing of runoff stemming from greenhouse warming.
Water is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive independent of climate change. Water demands are growing with population, incomes, and an appreciation for the values of instream ecological and recreational uses. Increased withdrawals of water for domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses, however, are limited by high economic costs and by the limited opportunities for increasing withdrawals from rivers or streams without adversely impacting instream uses. Improving the efficiency of our water use is rapidly becoming the primary means of balancing limited water supplies with growing demands. But as more people become dependent on a given water supply, vulnerability to drought can increase. Moreover, the capacity to store water to protect against floods and droughts and deal with the uncertainties of climate change appears to be declining because reservoir storage losses due to sedimentation have exceeded additions through new construction in recent years.
The impacts of climate change on water quality have received less attention than the impacts on quantity, but current research raises several concerns. Potential negative implications of climate change include reductions in dilution flows, increased storm surges, and higher water temperatures. Low flows in many western rivers will lead to increases in salinity levels to downstream water users; higher flows could help reduce some water quality concerns. Warmer water could threaten aquatic life directly as cool-water habitats disappear and indirectly as dissolved oxygen levels decline with higher temperatures. An increase in days with more intense precipitation could increase the agricultural and urban pollutants washed into streams and lakes, further reducing oxygen levels. Heavy rainfall is primarily responsible for soil erosion, leaching of agricultural chemicals, and runoff of urban and livestock wastes and nutrients into water bodies. Sea-level rise would contribute to saltwater intrusion into rivers and coastal aquifers.
The socioeconomic implications of both climate and non-climate impacts on water supply and demand will depend in large part on both the ability to adapt to change and on whether water managers and planners take action. Current laws and policies affecting water use, management, and development are often inefficient and unresponsive to changing conditions. The costs of these inefficiencies will likely rise if water becomes scarcer and supply and demand conditions change. There are four promising opportunities for reducing the costs and conflicts of supplying future water demands and adapting to future climate variability: (1) establishing incentives for using, conserving, and protecting supplies; (2) providing opportunities for transferring water among competing uses in response to changing conditions; (3) influencing how water is managed within and among basins; and (4) re-evaluating the operations of the existing infrastructure to address climate and non-climate changes.
All water-supply systems were designed and are operated on the assumption that future climate will look like past climate. Additional dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, levees, and other structures may eventually be needed to help adapt to climate change. But, when possible, costly and irreversible decisions to build water-related infrastructure should be postponed in anticipation of obtaining better information about the likely consequences and costs of a greenhouse warming. Water managers already have a wide variety of tools available for dealing with risk and uncertainty. One view holds that nothing different needs to be done now to cope with future climate changes as these tools will prove sufficient for dealing with future climate changes. But regional modeling studies suggest that even modest changes in climate can lead to changes in water availability outside the range of historical hydrologic variability. It is unclear whether some climate changes will be so rapid or of such large magnitude as to overwhelm existing systems before current management approaches can react. These uncertainties suggest the wisdom of re-examining design assumptions, operating rules, and contingency planning for a wider range of climate conditions than traditionally used. Maintaining options and building in flexibility are important for designing efficient water programs in the context of climate change.
P. H. Gleick, E. L. Chalecki (1999). The impacts of climatic changes for water resources of the Colorado and Sacramento-San Joaquin River basins. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 35 (6): 1429-1441
ABSTRACT: A wide variety of regional assessments of the waterrelated impacts of climatic change have been done over the past two decades, using different methods, approaches, climate models, and assumptions. As part of the Water Sector research for the National Assessment of the Implications of Climatic Variability and Change for the United States, several major summaries have been prepared, looking at the differences and similarities in results among regional research projects. Two such summaries are presented here, for the Colorado River Basin and the Sacramento River Basin. Both of these watersheds are vitally important to the social, economic, and ecological character of their regions; both are large snowmelt-driven basins; both have extensive and complex water management systems in place; and both have had numerous, independent studies done on them. This review analyzes the models, methods, climate assumptions, and conclusions from these studies, and places them in the context of the new climate scenarios developed for the National Assessment. Some significant and consistent impacts have been identified for these basins, across a wide range of potential climate changes. Among the most important is the shift in the timing of runoff that results from changes in snowfall and snowmelt dynamics. This shift has been seen in every regional result across these two basins despite differences in models and climate change assumptions. The implications of these impacts for water management, planning, and policy are discussed.
ABSTRACT: Changes in global climate may alter hydrologic conditions and have a variety of effects on human settlements and ecological systems. The effects include changes in water supply and quality for domestic, irrigation, recreational, commercial, and industrial uses; in instream flows that support aquatic ecosystems, recreation uses, hydropower, navigation, and wastewater assimilation; in wetland extent and productivity that support fish, wildlife, and wastewater assimilation; and in the frequency and severity of floods. Watersheds where water resources are stressed under current climate are most likely to be vulnerable to changes in mean climate and extreme events. This study identified key aspects of water supply and use that could be adversely affected by climate change, developed measures and criteria useful for assessing the vulnerability of regional water resources and water dependent resources to climate change, developed a regional database of water sensitive variables consistent with the vulnerability measures, and applied the criteria in a regional study of the vulnerability of U.S. water resources. Key findings highlight the vulnerability of consumptive uses in the western and, in particular, the southwestern United States. However, southern United States watersheds are relatively more vulnerable to changes in water quality, flooding, and other instream uses.
ABSTRACT: Renewable fresh water comprises a tiny fraction of the global water pool but is the foundation for life in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. The benefits to humans of renewable fresh water include water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial uses, for production of fish and waterfowl, and for such instream uses as recreation, transportation, and waste disposal.
In the coming century, climate change and a growing imbalance among freshwater supply, consumption, and population will alter the water cycle dramatically. Many regions of the world are already limited by the amount and quality of available water. In the next 30 yr alone, accessible runoff is unlikely to increase more than 10%, but the earth's population is projected to rise by approximately one-third. Unless the efficiency of water use rises, this imbalance will reduce freshwater ecosystem services, increase the number of aquatic species facing extinction, and further fragment wetlands, rivers, deltas, and estuaries.
Based on the scientific evidence currently available, we conclude that: (1) over half of accessible freshwater runoff globally is already appropriated for human use; (2) more than 1 × 109 people currently lack access to clean drinking water and almost 3 × 109 people lack basic sanitation services; (3) because the human population will grow faster than increases in the amount of accessible fresh water, per capita availability of fresh water will decrease in the coming century; (4) climate change will cause a general intensification of the earth's hydrological cycle in the next 100 yr, with generally increased precipitation, evapotranspiration, and occurrence of storms, and significant changes in biogeochemical processes influencing water quality; (5) at least 90% of total water discharge from U.S. rivers is strongly affected by channel fragmentation from dams, reservoirs, interbasin diversions, and irrigation; and (6) globally, 20% of freshwater fish species are threatened or extinct, and freshwater species make up 47% of all animals federally endangered in the United States.
The growing demands on freshwater resources create an urgent need to link research with improved water management. Better monitoring, assessment, and forecasting of water resources will help to allocate water more efficiently among competing needs. Currently in the United States, at least six federal departments and 20 agencies share responsibilities for various aspects of the hydrologic cycle. Coordination by a single panel with members drawn from each department, or by a central agency, would acknowledge the diverse pressures on freshwater systems and could lead to the development of a well-coordinated national plan.
ABSTRACT: The high demand for water, the recent multiyear drought (1999–2007), and projections of global warming have raised questions about the long-term sustainability of water supply in the southwestern United States. In this study, the potential effects of specific levels of atmospheric warming on water-year streamflow in the Colorado River basin are evaluated using a water-balance model, and the results are analyzed within the context of a multi-century tree-ring reconstruction (1490–1998) of streamflow for the basin. The results indicate that if future warming occurs in the basin and is not accompanied by increased precipitation, then the basin is likely to experience periods of water supply shortages more severe than those inferred from the long-term historical tree-ring reconstruction. Furthermore, the modeling results suggest that future warming would increase the likelihood of failure to meet the water allocation requirements of the Colorado River Compact.
Miles, E. L., A. K. Snover, A. F. Hamlet, B. Callahan, D. Fluharty (2000). Pacific Northwest regional assessment: the impacts of climate variability and climate change on the water resources of the Columbia River basin. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 36 (2): 399-420
ABSTRACT: The Pacific Northwest (PNW) regional assessment is an integrated examination of the consequences of natural climate variability and projected future climate change for the natural and human systems of the region. The assessment currently focuses on four sectors: hydrology/water resources, forests and forestry, aquatic ecosystems, and coastal activities. The assessment begins by identifying and elucidating the natural patterns of climate variability in the PNW on interannual to decadal timescales. The pathways through which these climate variations are manifested and the resultant impacts on the natural and human systems of the region are investigated. Knowledge of these pathways allows an analysis of the potential impacts of future climate change, as defined by IPCC climate change scenarios. In this paper, we examine the sensitivity, adaptability and vulnerability of hydrology and water resources to climate variability and change. We focus on the Columbia River Basin, which covers approximately 75 percent of the PNW and is the basis for the dominant water resources system of the PNW. The water resources system of the Columbia River is sensitive to climate variability, especially with respect to drought. Management inertia and the lack of a centralized authority coordinating all uses of the resource impede adaptability to drought and optimization of water distribution. Climate change projections suggest exacerbated conditions of conflict between users as a result of low summertime streamflow conditions. An understanding of the patterns and consequences of regional climate variability is crucial to developing an adequate response to future changes in climate.
ABSTRACT: The Colorado River system exhibits the characteristics of a heavily over-allocated or `closing water system'. In such systems, development of mechanisms to allow resource users to acknowledge interdependence and to engage in negotiations and agreements becomes necessary. Recently, after a decade of deliberations and environmental assessments, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP) was established to monitor and analyze the effects of dam operations on the Grand Canyon ecosystem and recommend adjustments intended to preserve and enhance downstream physical, cultural and environmental values. The Glen Canyon Dam effectively separates the Colorado into its lower and upper basins. Dam operations and adaptive management decisions are strongly influenced by variations in regional climate. This paper focuses on the management of extreme climatic events within the Glen and Grand Canyon Region of the Colorado River. It illustrates how past events (both societal and physical) condition management flexibility and receptivity to new information. The types of climatic information and their appropriate entry points in the annual cycle of information gathering and decision-making (the `hydro-climatic decision calendar') for dam operations and the adaptive management program are identified. The study then describes how the recently implemented program, lessons from past events, and new climate information on the Colorado River Basin, facilitated responses during the major El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event of 1997–1998. Recommendations are made for engaging researchers and practitioners in the effective use of climatic information in similar settings where the decision stakes are complex and the system uncertainty is large.
B.H. Hurd, M. Calloway, J. Smith, P. Kirshen (2004). Climatic change and U.S. water resources: from modeled watershed impacts to national estimates. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 40 (1): 129-148
ABSTRACT: Water is potentially one of the most affected resources as climate changes. Though knowledge and understanding has steadily evolved about the nature and extent of many of the physical effects of possible climate change on water resources, much less is known about the economic responses and impacts that may emerge. Methods and results are presented that examine and quantify many of the important economic consequences of possible climate change on U.S. water resources. At the core of the assessment is the simulation of multiple climate change scenarios in economic models of four watersheds. These Water Allocation and Impact Models (Water-AIM) simulate the effects of modeled runoff changes under various climate change scenarios on the spatial and temporal dimensions of water use, supply, and storage and on the magnitude and distribution of economic consequences. One of the key aspects and contributions of this approach is the capability of capturing economic response and adaptation behavior of water users to changes in water scarcity. By reflecting changes in the relative scarcity (and value) of water, users respond by changing their patterns of water use, intertemporal storage in reservoirs, and changes in the pricing of water. The estimates of economic welfare change that emerge from the Water-AIM models are considered lowerbound estimates owing to the conservative nature of the model formulation and key assumptions. The results from the Water-AIM models form the basis for extrapolating impacts to the national level. Differences in the impacts across the regional models are carried through to the national assessment by matching the modeled basins with basins with similar geographical, climatic, and water use characteristics that have not been modeled and by using hydrologic data across all U.S. water resources regions. The results from the national analysis show that impacts are borne to a great extent by nonconsumptive users that depend on river flows, which rise and fall with precipitation, and by agricultural users, primarily in the western United States, that use a large share of available water in relatively low-valued uses. Water used for municipal and industrial purposes is largely spared from reduced availability because of its relatively high marginal value. In some cases water quality.
Payne, J.T., A. W. Wood, A. F. Hamlet, R. N. Palmer, D. P. Lettenmaier (2004). Mitigating the effects of climate change on the water resources of the Columbia River Basin. Climatic Change 62 (1-3): 233-256
ABSTRACT: Atmospheric Research Parallel Climate Model (DOE/NCAR PCM). This study focuses on three climate projections for the 21st century based on a `business as usual' (BAU) global emissions scenario, evaluated with respect to a control climate scenario based on static 1995 emissions. Time-varying monthly PCM temperature and precipitation changes were statistically downscaled and temporally disaggregated to produce daily forcings that drove a macro-scale hydrologic simulation model of the Columbia River basin at ¼-degree spatial resolution. For comparison with the direct statistical downscaling approach, a dynamical downscaling approach using a regional climate model (RCM) was also used to derive hydrologic model forcings for 20-year subsets from the PCM control climate (1995–2015) scenario and from the three BAU climate (2040–2060) projections. The statistically downscaled PCM scenario results were assessed for three analysis periods (denoted Periods 1–3: 2010–2039, 2040–2069, 2070–2098) in which changes in annual average temperature were +0.5, +1.3 and +2.1 °C, respectively, while critical winter season precipitation changes were –3, +5 and +1 percent. For RCM, the predicted temperature change for the 2040–2060 period was +1.2 °C and the average winter precipitation change was –3 percent, relative to the RCM control climate. Due to the modest changes in winter precipitation, temperature changes dominated the simulated hydrologic effects by reducing winter snow accumulation, thus shifting summer streamflow to the winter. The hydrologic changes caused increased competition for reservoir storage between firm hydropower and instream flow targets developed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act listing of Columbia River salmonids. We examined several alternative reservoir operating policies designed to mitigate reservoir system performance losses. In general, the combination of earlier reservoir refill with greater storage allocations for instream flow targets mitigated some of the negative impacts to flow, but only with significant losses in firm hydropower production (ranging from –9 percent in Period 1 to –35 percent for RCM). Simulated hydropower revenue changes were less than 5 percent for all scenarios, however, primarily due to small changes in annual runoff.
ABSTRACT: We evaluated the effects of institutional responses developed for coping with a severe sustained drought (SSD) in the Colorado River Basin on selected system variables using a SSD inflow hydrology derived from the drought which occurred in the Colorado River basin from 1579-1616. Institutional responses considered are reverse equalization, salinity reduction, minimum flow requirements, and temporary suspension of the delivery obligation of the Colorado River Compact. Selected system variables (reservoir contents, streamflows, consumptive uses, salinity, and power generation) from scenarios incorporating the drought-coping responses were compared to those from Baseline conditions using the current operating criteria. The coping responses successfully mitigated some impacts of the SSD on consumptive uses in the Upper Basin with only slight impacts on consumptive uses in the Lower Basin, and successfully maintained specified minimum streamflows throughout the drought with no apparent effect on consumptive uses. The impacts of the coping responses on other system variables were not as clear cut. We also assessed the effects of the drought coping responses to normal and wet hydrologic conditions to determine if they were overly conservative. The results show that the rules would have inconsequential effects on the system during normal and wet years.
Mote, P. W., D. J. Canning, D. L. Fluharty, R.C. Francis, J. F. Franklin, A. F. Hamlet, M. Hershman, M. Holmberg, K. N. Ideker, W. S. Keeton, D. P. Lettenmaier, L. R. Leung, N. J. Mantua, E. L. Miles, B. Noble, H. Parandvash, D. W. Peterson, A. K. Snover, S. R. Willard (1999). Impacts of climate variability and change, Pacific Northwest. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, Office of Global Programs, and JISAO/SMA Climate Impacts Group: 110 pp.
OVERVIEW: Experience of the recent past illustrates the impacts that the climate variations have on the Pacific Northwest, and illustrates that there are both winners and loser when the climate is different from the “average.” The mild winter and spring of 1997—98 saw an early snow melt, which strained regional water supplies during the summer and fall months. An especially warm and dry summer, coupled with the early melt, led to exceptionally low flows and high temperatures in many Northwest streams. These conditions in turn caused severe difficulties for salmon. However, 1997—98 also had benefits for the region, which avoided the damage and disruption caused by heavy snow fall and winter flooding during the previous two winters.
Climate is not a constant, and yet many aspects of human infrastructure and activities are planned with the assumption that it is constant. But what happens when climate produces a surprise? What if, furthermore, there are long-term changes in climate? Humans have altered the composition of Earth’s atmosphere to such an extent that climate itself appears to be changing. The consequences of a changing climate may be beneficial for some places and activities, and detrimental for others.
This report describes the possible impacts of human-induced climate change and of natural climate variability like El Niño, focusing on the water resources, salmon, forests, and coasts of the Pacific Northwest (PNW). It has been prepared largely by the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington. The CIG, under the direction of Professor Edward L. Miles, is an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the physical, biological, and social sciences working together to understand the impacts of climate variability and change on the Northwest.
Looking at the recent past, much of the climate history of the PNW can be described by a few recurring patterns. The strongest pattern highlights the tendency for winter climate to be either relatively cool and wet or relatively warm and dry. Cool-wet winters are generally associated with increased risks of flooding and landslides, abundant summer water supply, more abundant salmon, reduced risk of forest fires, and improved tree growth (except at high elevation). Warm-dry winters are often followed by summer water shortages, less abundant salmon, and increased risk of forest fires. The occurrence of the cool-wet or warm-dry winter pattern is influenced by two main climate variations in the Pacific Basin: ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) primarily on year-to-year timescales and PDO (the Pacific Decadal oscillation) primarily on decade-to-decade timescales. ENSO and PDO cause variation sin snowpack and streamflow, and hence the ability to meet water resource objectives; with respect tot he region’s water resources, ENSO and PDO can reinforce or cancel each other. In contrast, the response of forests and salmon is correlated more strongly with the PDO than with ENSO. The magnitude of seasonal anomalies of temperature and precipitation leading to the above effects is strikingly small, but these past anomalies enable us to calibrate the possible responses to long-term climate change.
Looking to the future, computer models of climate generally agree that the PNW will become, over the next half century, gradually warmer and wetter, with most of the precipitation increase in winter. These trends mostly agree with observed changes over the past century. Wetter winters would likely mean more flooding of certain rivers, and landslides on steep coastal bluffs. The region’s warm, dry summers may see slight increases in rainfall, according to the models, but the gains in rainfall will be more than offset by losses due to increases in evaporation. Loss of moderate-elevation snowpack in response to warmer winter temperatures would have enormous and mostly negative impacts on the region’s water resources, forests, and salmon. Among these impacts are a diminished ability to store water in reservoirs for summer use, more drought-stressed tress leading to reductions in forested area, and spawning and rearing difficulties for salmon.
Knowing what changes might occur is only part of the challenge, however. This knowledge must make its way from the realm of research to the realm of decisions, and be used in decisions. Large practical and, in some cases, legal constraints prevent climate information from being fully utilized. Meeting the challenges posed by climate variations and climate change will require considerable revision of the policies and practices concerning how the region’s natural resources are managed. An indication of the scope of such revisions comes from considering how government agencies have handled climate-related stresses in the past, like droughts and coastal erosion. In many cases, agencies cannot even make use of a good seasonal forecast in making short-term planning decision: the operating assumption is often that climate is constant and extremes do not occur. There are wide variations among the four sectors considered here in how management presently makes use of climate information.
Bonfils, C., Santer, B. D., Pierce, D. W., Hidalgo, H. G., Bala, G., Das, T., Barnett, T. P., Cayan, D. R., Doutriaux, C., Wood, A. W., Mirin, A., Nozawa, T. (2008). Detection and attribution of temperature changes in the mountainous western United States. Journal of Climate 21 (23): 6404-6424
ABSTRACT: 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°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 downscaling method, and to various processing options in the detection and attribution method.
M. A Palmer, C. A. Reidy Liermann, C. Nilsson, M. Flörke, J. Alcamo, P. S. Lake, N. Bond (2008). Climate change and the world's river basins: anticipating management options. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6 (2): 81-89
ABSTRACT: Major rivers worldwide have experienced dramatic changes in flow, reducing their natural ability to adjust to and absorb disturbances. Given expected changes in global climate and water needs, this may create serious problems, including loss of native biodiversity and risks to ecosystems and humans from increased flooding or water shortages. Here, we project river discharge under different climate and water withdrawal scenarios and combine this with data on the impact of dams on large river basins to create global maps illustrating potential changes in discharge and water stress for dam-impacted and free-flowing basins. The projections indicate that every populated basin in the world will experience changes in river discharge and many will experience water stress. The magnitude of these impacts is used to identify basins likely and almost certain to require proactive or reactive management intervention. Our analysis indicates that the area in need of management action to mitigate the impacts of climate change is much greater for basins impacted by dams than for basins with free-flowing rivers. Nearly one billion people live in areas likely to require action and approximately 365 million people live in basins almost certain to require action. Proactive management efforts will minimize risks to ecosystems and people and may be less costly than reactive efforts taken only once problems have arisen.