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Development and application of downscaled hydroclimatic predictor variables for use in climate vulnerability and assessment studies

October 4, 2012

This paper outlines the production of 270-meter grid-scale maps for 14 climate and derivative hydrologic variables for a region that encompasses the State of California and all the streams that flow into it. The paper describes the Basin Characterization Model (BCM), a map-based, mechanistic model used to process the hydrological variables. Three historic and three future time periods of 30 years (1911–1940, 1941–1970, 1971–2000, 2010–2039, 2040–2069, and 2070–2099) were developed that summarize 180 years of monthly historic and future climate values. These comprise a standardized set of fine-scale climate data that were shared with 14 research groups, including the U.S. National Park Service and several University of California groups as part of this project. We present three analyses done with the outputs from the Basin Characterization Model: trends in hydrologic variables over baseline, the most recent 30-year period; a calibration and validation effort that uses measured discharge values from 139 streamgages and compares those to Basin Characterization Model-derived projections of discharge for the same basins; and an assessment of the trends of specific hydrological variables that links historical trend to projected future change under four future climate projections. Overall, increases in potential evapotranspiration dominate other influences in future hydrologic cycles. Increased potential evapotranspiration drives decreasing runoff even under forecasts with increased precipitation, and drives increased climatic water deficit, which may lead to conversion of dominant vegetation types across large parts of the study region as well as have implications for rain-fed agriculture. The potential evapotranspiration is driven by air temperatures, and the Basin Characterization Model permits it to be integrated with a water balance model that can be derived for landscapes and summarized by watershed. These results show the utility of using a process-based model with modules representing different hydrological pathways that can be inter-linked.

Publication Year 2012
Title Development and application of downscaled hydroclimatic predictor variables for use in climate vulnerability and assessment studies
Authors James Thorne, Ryan Boynton, Lorraine Flint, Alan Flint, Thuy N'goc Le
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Series Title Technical Paper
Index ID 70040189
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center