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Climate model assessment of changes in winter-spring streamflow timing over North America

April 24, 2018

Over regions where snow-melt runoff substantially contributes to winter-spring streamflows, warming can accelerate snow melt and reduce dry-season streamflows. However, conclusive detection of changes and attribution to anthropogenic forcing is hindered by brevity of observational records, model uncertainty, and uncertainty concerning internal variability. In this study, a detection/attribution of changes in mid-latitude North American winter-spring streamflow timing is examined using nine global climate models under multiple forcing scenarios. In this study, robustness across models, start/end dates for trends, and assumptions about internal variability is evaluated. Marginal evidence for an emerging detectable anthropogenic influence (according to four or five of nine models) is found in the north-central U.S., where winter-spring streamflows have been coming earlier. Weaker indications of detectable anthropogenic influence (three of nine models) are found in the mountainous western U.S./southwestern Canada and in extreme northeastern U.S./Canadian Maritimes. In the former region, a recent shift toward later streamflows has rendered the full-record trend toward earlier streamflows only marginally significant, with possible implications for previously published climate change detection findings for streamflow timing in this region. In the latter region, no forced model shows as large a shift toward earlier streamflow timing as the detectable observed shift. In other (including warm, snow-free) regions, observed trends are typically not detectable, although in the U.S. central plains we find detectable delays in streamflow, which are inconsistent with forced model experiments.

Publication Year 2018
Title Climate model assessment of changes in winter-spring streamflow timing over North America
DOI 10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0813.1
Authors Jonghun Kam, Thomas R. Knutson, Paul C. D. Milly
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Climate
Index ID 70196673
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Eastern Branch