Data Snapshot: Water

Release Date:

Our latest data announcement highlights three CASC datasets related to water in the Northeast, Pacific Islands, and Southwest regions.

From projecting the future condition of fish habitats in the Northeast and Midwest, to exploring changes in water availability in California, the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) work to inform natural resource managers’ efforts to adapt to a changing climate. As temperatures and precipitation patterns change, the impacts to our Nation’s aquatic habitats and water resources can have implications for both people and wildlife. Here’s a snapshot of three datasets produced by CASC projects that can help managers plan for and adapt to potential future changes to water.

Northeast CASC: FishTail - Science to Inform the Conservation of Fish Habitats

Future climate change index created to indicate the risk of fish groupings changing as a result of changes in temperature.

Future climate change index created to indicate the risk of fish groupings changing as a result of changes in temperature and flow. (Daniel et al., 2017)

The Project: An estimated 40% of the Northeast and Midwest’s streams are at risk for habitat degradation due to urbanization, agriculture, and other human land uses. Changing climate conditions are expected to further alter stream habitats, which support diverse and economically-valuable fish species. Fully understanding the current (1961-2000) and future (2041-2080) conditions of streams is essential for conserving and maintaining fish populations and their habitats. To inform fisheries management in the Northeast and Midwest, researchers with the Northeast CASC developed an interactive science product, known as “FishTail”.

The Data: Users of FishTail are able to view a variety of information to inform decision-making. Information can be displayed for different spatial units such as stream reach or large watersheds; views of information can be tailored to the entire study region, individual states, or ecoregions; and results can reflect response of groups of fish species or key species of interest to management. The types of information that can be displayed with FishTail include indices related to fish response to urban and agricultural land use, river fragmentation by large dams, and water quality impairment; the likelihood of stream habitat changing; and fish habitat condition scores for streams within the conterminous United States.

Applications: Using this data, managers and researchers in the Northeast and Midwest are able to evaluate how streams in their local area of interest are currently impacted by land use and determine whether the condition of these streams may change as temperatures warm and precipitation patterns change. Users can identify priority streams that should be targeted with protection and restoration in order to maintain important fish habitats into the future. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is using FishTail to identify future brook trout reserves and evaluate trout stocking guidance.

Partners: USGS Missouri Cooperative Research Unit, Michigan State University, USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center, USGS Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit

Pacific Islands CASC: Hawaiʻi’s Changing Rainfall

Projected precipitation changes will vary greatly by location. Numbers represent percent change relative to present-day values.

Projected precipitation changes will vary greatly by location. Numbers represent percent change relative to present-day values. (Timm et al., 2014)

The Projects: Surrounded by saltwater, Hawaiʻi depends on rainfall for freshwater. Climate change will likely alter rainfall timing and intensity, but global climate models cannot capture the fine-scale dynamics of local precipitation in the Hawaiian islands, making future rainfall predictions for the islands uncertain. The Pacific Islands CASC funded two projects to address this data gap, each applying a different method of downscaling global climate data.

Project 1: Statistical downscaling
The Data
: Researchers statistically downscaled global climate models to provide high-resolution projections of  future rainfall change scenarios for the second half of the 21st century, for the main Hawaiian Islands (Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Maui Nui, and Hawaiʻi). These scenarios are available for 2041-2070 and 2071-2099. The data were produced by statistically-downscaling CMIP5 global climate data, under moderate and high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5). Future rainfall anomaly maps based on precipitation data collected at weather observation stations are also provided at three resolutions: 3 km (coarse), 250 m (high), and 0.5 minute resolution in longitude and latitude (intermediate). The data are available in GIS compatible formats, text-based tables, and NetCDF. Figure files in PDF format are also included.
Partners: State University of New York at Albany, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, University of Colorado Boulder

Project 2: Dynamical downscaling
The Data
: Researchers dynamically downscaled CMIP5 global climate data to produce state of the art high resolution simulations of recent past (1990-2009) and long-term future (2080-2099) climate for the islands of Kauaʻi and Oʻahu, as well as American Samoa and Guam. The projections of future conditions were developed based on moderate and high greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), and include fine scale resolution (800m x 800m pixel) estimates of future rainfall, surface air temperature, and tropical cyclone patterns for the end of the century.
Partners: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies

Applications: Together, these datasets provide critical information for Hawaiʻi’s resource managers as they undertake adaptation and water management planning. They also provide a foundation for further ecological research, such as exploring the impacts of changing rainfall on native Hawaiian plants and animals.

Southwest CASC: Future Water Availability in California and the Great Basin 

Maps of hydrologic output variables for (A) average recharge (net infiltration below the root zone) for water years 1981-2010.

Maps of hydrologic output variables for (A) average recharge (net infiltration below the root zone) for water years 1981-2010 and (B) change in average April 1st snow water equivalent (SWE) between 1951-1980 and 1981-2010 calculated by the Basin Characterization Model for the California hydrologic region.​​​​​​​ (Flint and Flint, 2014)

The ProjectIn order to develop effective adaptation plans, natural resource managers require state-of-the-art climate and hydrologic information at a scale relevant to environmental applications. Focusing on California and the Great Basin, researchers with the Southwest CASC applied historical, current, and projected climate data to a regional water model, to examine future water availability. The resulting product is the Basin Characterization Model, which translates climate trends and projections into hydrologic consequences for all basins that drain into California.

The DataTo produce this model, researchers downscaled global climate models to a more useful scale (270 m), then ran the downscaled data through a regional water-balance model to simulate hydrologic responses to climate. The historical data (1896-2010) is based on 800 m PRISM data and future projections (2010-2099) were derived from CMIP3 and CMIP5 global climate models. Projections include estimates of changes in precipitation, air temperature, potential evapotranspiration, snowpack, streamflow, recharge, runoff, and climatic water deficit (potential minus actual evapotranspiration). The data are presented in monthly and annual maps, as well as 30-year averages (available here).  

Applications: The Basin Characterization Model provides the basis for analyses of water supply, groundwater, threats to agricultural crops, subsidence, urban planning, conservation and biodiversity, and human health and safety. So far, the data have been used by the U.S. Forest Service to develop a climate change vulnerability assessment of the Sierra Nevada; by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make plans for climate change adaptation on national wildlife refuges in the region; and by the California Department of Water Resources to guide water supply forecasting efforts, to name a few.

Partners: USGS California Water Science Center; University of California, Davis

Figure: Maps of hydrologic output variables for (A) average recharge (net infiltration below the root zone) for water years 1981-2010 and (B) change in average April 1st snow water equivalent (SWE) between 1951-1980 and 1981-2010 calculated by the Basin Characterization Model for the California hydrologic region (Flint and Flint, 2014).​​​​​​​