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Hydroclimate of the Spring Mountains and Sheep Range, Clark County, Nevada

August 29, 2014

Precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, and actual evapotranspiration often are used to characterize the hydroclimate of a region. Quantification of these parameters in mountainous terrains is difficult because limited access often hampers the collection of representative ground data. To fulfill a need to characterize ecological zones in the Spring Mountains and Sheep Range of southern Nevada, spatially and temporally explicit estimates of these hydroclimatic parameters are determined from remote-sensing and model-based methodologies. Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model (PRISM) precipitation estimates for this area ranges from about 100 millimeters (mm) in the low elevations of the study area (700 meters [m]) to more than 700 mm in the high elevations of the Spring Mountains (> 2,800 m). The PRISM model underestimates precipitation by 7–15 percent based on a comparison with four high‑elevation precipitation gages having more than 20 years of record. Precipitation at 3,000-m elevation is 50 percent greater in the Spring Mountains than in the Sheep Range. The lesser amount of precipitation in the Sheep Range is attributed to partial moisture depletion by the Spring Mountains of eastward-moving, cool-season (October–April) storms. Cool-season storms account for 66–76 percent of annual precipitation. Potential evapotranspiration estimates by the Basin Characterization Model range from about 700 mm in the high elevations of the Spring Mountains to 1,600 mm in the low elevations of the study area. The model realistically simulates lower potential evapotranspiration on northeast-to-northwest facing slopes compared to adjacent southeast-to-southwest facing slopes. Actual evapotranspiration, estimated using a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer based water-balance model, ranges from about 100 to 600 mm. The magnitude and spatial variation of simulated, actual evapotranspiration was validated by comparison to PRISM precipitation. Estimated groundwater recharge, computed as the residual of precipitation depleted by actual evapotranspiration, is within the range of previous estimates. A climatic water deficit dataset and aridity-index-based climate zones are derived from precipitation and evapotranspiration datasets. Climate zones range from arid in the lower elevations of the study area to humid in small pockets on north- to northeast-facing slopes in the high elevations of the Spring Mountains. Correlative analyses between hydroclimatic variables and mean ecosystem elevations indicate that the climatic water deficit is the best predictor of ecosystem distribution (R2 = 0.92). Computed water balances indicate that substantially more recharge is generated in the Spring Mountains than in the Sheep Range. A geospatial database containing compiled and developed hydroclimatic data and other pertinent information accompanies this report.

Publication Year 2014
Title Hydroclimate of the Spring Mountains and Sheep Range, Clark County, Nevada
DOI 10.3133/sir20145142
Authors Michael T. Moreo, Gabriel B. Senay, Alan L. Flint, Nancy A. Damar, Randell J. Laczniak, James Hurja
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5142
Index ID sir20145142
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center