Multi-century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin

Science Center Objects

The Missouri River system is the life-blood of the American Midwest providing water resources that drive agriculture, industry, hydroelectric power generation, and ecosystems. However, the Missouri River Basin (MRB) (Figure 1) is the only major river in the western U.S. for which hydrologic reconstructions from tree rings have not been generated in any systematic way. This knowledge gap is critical given that the region is facing an array of water resource issues that are challenged by hydrologic variability – experiencing both severe floods and droughts in the recent past. The main goals of this project are to 1) develop the first network of streamflow reconstructions for the upper Missouri River basin, and 2) collaborate with water resource professionals to develop applications of these extended streamflow records for water resource planning and management. Support for producing the network of streamflow reconstructions and the analysis of the climate drivers of runoff generation in the UMRB comes from the National Science Foundation Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change (P2C2) Program with additional support provided by the state of Montana  DNRC, USBR, and USGS.

Reconstructions of Missouri River Flows using Tree-Ring Records:

Map of the Missouri River Basin and locations of the reconstructed stream gage records, and the network of tree-ring

Figure 1. Map of the Missouri River Basin and locations of the reconstructed naturalized stream gage records, and the network of tree-ring chronologies used in the reconstructions.   (Public domain.)

Historical discharge records provide a context of only the last ~100 years, or so, for assessing past streamflow variability and drought. This interval may not fully represent the range of variability that is possible. Tree-Ring based records of hydrology, typically hundreds of years long or longer, serve to contextualize future projections of streamflow change, and provide invaluable information on the natural variability of streamflow within the basin. With guidance from water managers and stakeholders we have produced a network of 31 streamflow reconstructions for major gages within the upper basin that capture inflows to US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and Montanta State water management infrastructure (Figure 1, black gage icons). The water year (October – September) streamflow reconstructions range in length from 800 to ~1600 years.

 

Applications of Reconstructed Streamflow to Water Resource Management:

Our research team is working in close collaboration with the BOR and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to produce and integrate paleohydrologic data for optimizing hydrologic operations and planning for drought. Reconstructions of water year streamflow were disaggregated to estimates of daily flows and routed through BOR constructed RIverWare™ operations model to test current operational rules against the sequence of historic flood and drought events. We also produced blended paleo-informed future scenarios by integrating projected hydroclimatic changes with natural variability from the long historical records. Information generated from this study will help guide operational improvements under severe drought and flood conditions across a complex network of reservoirs and diversions.

 

Stakeholder Engagement:

To engage directly with Montana water users, we worked in close collaboration with the BOR and DNRC to convene multiple workshops for local watershed conservation and management groups, and state and tribal agencies with the goal testing locally developed adaptation scenarios that could be built into individual watershed drought management plans (Figure 2).  This work is being conducted to address the goals and requirements of the BOR WaterSMART program, the results of which will be featured in scientific journals, and the Upper Missouri River Basin Impacts Assessment and complementary Basin Study.  Future work will seek to build on the successful collaborations in the upper Missouri Basin and extend further into the lower basin by working closely with downriver states, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute of Water Resources and their Upper Missouri Basin Offices. 

 

Figure 2. Overview of upper Missouri River Basin Impacts Assessment and Complementary Missouri Headwaters Basin Study.

Figure 2. Overview of upper Missouri River Basin Impacts Assessment and Complementary Missouri Headwaters Basin Study. Figure reproduced with permission from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. (Credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Public domain.)

 

Research Questions and Objectives:

  • Using a variety of modeling approaches, develop a network of streamflow reconstructions within the Upper Missouri River Basin using tree-ring chronologies. Compare the resulting hydrologic reconstructions to identify particular strengths and weakness associated with each method.
     
  • Use the reconstructions to analyze drought risk over the MRB station network focusing on the potential spatial structure and regime-like persistence of drought.
     
  • Identify spatial patterns of drought and correspondence to large-scale atmospheric circulation features and the more proximal temperature and precipitation related divers of streamflow through comparisons with independent paleo-reconstructions across the American West. Assess the post-1900 record for trends and changes given the longer context.
     
  • Introduce the reconstructions into the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state of Montana planning and operation evaluation process, and develop an understanding of potential current and future applications for a range of stakeholders, including Montana water users.

 

Project Resources

Presentations and Stakeholder Outreach:

  • Pederson, G.T., et al., (2015), Collaborative Research: Multi-century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. 2015 Pacific Climate Meeting (PACLIM), Droughts: reconstructing the past, monitoring the present, and modeling the future, 8-11 March 2015, Pacific Grove, CA.
  • Pederson, G.T.,  Woodhouse, C.A. , Wise, E., St. Jacques, J., St. George, S., Sauchyn, D., Martin, J., Gray, S., Cook, E.,  Lall, U., Devineni, N., (2016) Multi-century perspective on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. Ameridendro 2016: Third American Dendrochronology Conference, 28 Mar – 1 Apr 2016, Mendoza, AR.
  • Pederson, G.T., Martin, J.T., Woodhouse, C.A., and Cook, E.R., 2016, Multi-Century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. Joint American Water Works Association / Montana Water Environment Association 2016 conference, 25 Apr 2016, Bozeman MT.
  • Pederson, G.T., Martin, J.T., Woodhouse, C.A., and Cook, E.R., 2016, Multi-Century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. Presented via WebEx to the Missouri Basin Federal Climate Collaboration, 25 Apr 2016, Bozeman MT.
  • Pederson, G.T., Martin, J.T., Woodhouse, C.A., and Cook, E.R., 2016, Multi-Century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. Joint American Water Works Association / Montana Water Environment Association 2016 conference, 27 Sep 2016, Bozeman MT.
  • Martin, J.T., Pederson, G.T., Woodhouse, C.A., Cook, E.R., and Wise, E., (2016), Multi-century streamflow reconstructions for the Upper Missour River Basin: Findings from a joint NSF-USGS sponsored Graduate Research Intership Program (GRIP) project.  NOROCK Ecoluch Seminar, 13 Oct 2016, Bozeman, MT
  • Martin, J.T., Pederson, G.T., Woodhouse, C.A., and Cook, E.R., 2016, Upper Missouri River Basin streamflow reconstructions for improved hydrologic operations. 2016 Mountain Climate Conference (MtnClim), 17-21 Oct 2016, Leavenworth, WA.
  • Martin, J.T., and Pederson, G.T., 2016, Upper Missouri River Basin streamflow reconstructions for improved hydrologic operations. Missouri Basin Water Manager and Stakeholder Climate Adaptation Meeting, 1 Dec 2016, Helena, MT.
  • Cook, E.R., (2016), Point-by-Point reconstructions of selected Missouri River headwaters gage records. Presentation given at the 2nd Missouri River Basin Project Meeting, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO, July 12-14, 2016.
  • Pederson, G.T., Martin, J.T., Woodhouse, C.A., and Cook, E.R., 2017, Multi-Century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. Madison Watershed Group: Stakeholder Climate Adaptation Meeting, 29 March 2017, Ennis, MT.
  • Woodhouse, C.A., Frederick, S.E., Pederson, G.T., Wise, E.K., (2017), Spatial and Temporal Variability in Upper Missouri River Basin Droughts and Pluvials. American Association of Geographers 2017 Annual Meeting, Boston, 7 April 2017, Boston, MA.
  • Wise, E.K., Woodhouse, C.A., McCabe, G.J, Pederson, G.T., St. and Jacques, J., (2017), Disparate climate controls on extreme flow years in the Upper and Lower Missouri River. American Association of Geographers 2017 Annual Meeting, 7 Apr 2017, Boston, MA.
  • Pederson, G.T., et al., (2017), Multi-century perspectives on current and future streamflow in the Missouri River Basin. North Central Climate Science Center LCC Liaisons Meeting, 19 Apr 2017, Bozeman, MT.
  • McGuire, M., Erger, P., Benock, G., Dolan, L., Heffner, J., Lanini, J., Broman, D., Pederson, G.T., Martin, J.T., Woodhouse, C.A., and Cook, E.R., (2017), The Upper Missouri Basin impacts assessment and Missouri Headwaters Basin Study. Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) Annual Conference, 13-15 Jun 2017, Ft. Collins, CO.
  • Martin, J.T., Pederson, G.T., (2017), Applied paleohydrologic information for improved water management in the Musselshell Basin. Musselshell Watershed Group Drought Planning Meeting, 13 Jun 2017, Lewistown, MT.
  • Pederson, G.T, Martin, J., Woodhouse, C.A., Cook E., McGuire, M., Lanini, J., Broman, D., Erger, P., Dolan, L., Gangopadhyay, S., Benock, G., (2017), Applied paleohydrologic information for improved water management in the Upper Missouri Basin, Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) Annual Conference, Fort Collins, CO, June 17-19, 2017.
  • Martin, J.T., Pederson, G.T., Dolan, L., Lanini, J. McGuire, M., and Broman, D., (2017), Changing water supplies and demands in the Beaverhead Basin. The Beaverhead Watershed Committee Drought Planning Meeting, 20 Sep 2017, Dillon, MT
  • Frederick, S.E., Woodhouse, C.E., Martin, J.T., and Pederson, G.T. ,(2017), An investigation of the role of winter and spring precipitation as drivers of streamflow in the Missouri River Headwaters using tree-ring reconstructions. Abstract PP31A-1260. 2017 AGU Fall Meeting, 11-15 December 2017, New Orleans, LA.
  • St. Jacques, J., Wise, E.K., Woodhouse, C.A., McCabe, G., and Pederson, G.T., (2017), Effects of the Atmosphere-Ocean Climate Oscillations on Missouri River Basin Streamflow. 2017 AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, L.A., 11-15 Dec 2017.
  • Martin, J.T., Pederson, G.T., Woodhouse, C.A., McGuire, M., Lanini, J., Broman, D., Erger, P., Dolan, L., Gangopadhyay, S., and Benock, G., (2017), Applied paleohydrologic information for improved water management in the Upper Missouri Basin. 2017 Montana Section AWRA Annual Meeting, 18-20 Oct 2017, Helena, MT.
  • Frederick, S.E., Woodhouse, C.E., Martin, J.T., and Pederson, G.T., (2018), Investigating seasonal drivers of streamflow in the Missouri River headwaters using tree-ring reconstructions. 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting, 15-19 February 2018, Austin, TX.

 

Stakeholder Tools and Data

 

Publications

Wise, E. K., C. A. Woodhouse, G. J. Mccabe, G. T. Pederson, and J.-M. St-Jacques (2018), Hydroclimatology of the Missouri River Basin, J. Hydrometeor, 19(1), 161–182, doi:10.1175/JHM-D-17-0155.1.

Ho, M. Lall, U. and Cook, E.R. 2016. Reconstructing streamflow from a paleo-drought record: A case study for the Missouri River Basin. Water Resources Research 52:5195-5212, doi:10.1002/2015WR018444.

 

Project Personnel  

Principal Investigators:

Edward Cook – Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, NY

Naresh Devineni – City University of New York

Upmanu Lall – Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, NY

Gregory Pederson – U.S. Geological Survey, Bozeman MT

Erika Wise – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC

Connie Woodhouse – University of Arizona, Tucson AZ

 

Graduate Students:

Sarah Frederick University of Arizona, Tucson AZ

Justin Martin – Montana State University, Bozeman, MT

Arun Ravi City University of New York

 

Collaborators:

Steve Gray – U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Climate Science Center, Anchorage, AK

John King – Lone Pine Research, Bozeman, MT

Jeremy Littell U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Climate Science Center, Anchorage, AK

Gregory McCabe – U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, CO

Scott St. George – University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Jeannine St. Jacques – Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, Regina, SK

Dave Sauchyn – Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, Regina, SK

 

Water Management Partners:

Subhrendu Gangopadhyay - Manager, Water Resources Planning and Operations Support Group, Bureau of Reclamation

Patrick Erger - Supervisory Hydrologist, Great Plains Region, Bureau of Reclamation

Gerald Benock - Supervisory Civil Engineer, Montana Operations, Bureau of Reclamation

Daniel Broman - Civil Engineer (Hydrologic), Bureau of Reclamation

Jordan Lanini - Civil Engineer (Hydrologic), Bureau of Reclamation

James Heffner - Hydrologist, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation

Ann Schwend - Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Upper Missouri Basin Water Planner

Jim Forseth - Civil Engineer, Bureau of Reclamation

Mike Dailey - Hydrologist, Water Resources Divison, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation

William Cole - Great Plains Region, Bureau of Reclamation

Marketa McGuire - Hydrologic Engineer, Bureau of Reclamation Technical Service Center

Larry Dolan - Hydrologist, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation

Russell Levens - Hydrologist, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation

Stephanie Micek - Operations Civil Engineer, Bureau of Reclamation

 

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation [Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change (P2C2) Program: Grant No. 1404188 and 1049562], the state of Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.