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Simulation of water availability in the Southeastern United States for historical and potential future climate and land-cover conditions

June 19, 2019

A study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCPO LCC) and the Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, to evaluate the hydrologic response of a daily time step hydrologic model to historical observations and projections of potential climate and land-cover change for the period 1952–2099. The model simulations were used to compute the potential changes in hydrologic response and streamflow statistics across the Southeastern United States, using historical observations of climate and streamflow. Thirteen downscaled general circulation models with four representative concentration pathways were used to represent a range of potential future changes in climate (a total of 45 future simulations) from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5. The streamflow statistics were selected to describe streamflow conditions that may be most useful in defining the suitability for each river or stream to support sustaining populations of priority aquatic species across the GCPO LCC. An application of the Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (included as part of the USGS National Hydrologic Model) was used to develop the hydrologic simulations. The results showed increases in air temperature across the study area, with the highest increases occurring in the northern part of the study area during July to September. The results showed a mix of increases and decreases in precipitation accumulation across the study area and across seasons, with decreases in precipitation accumulation across all seasons for the southwestern part of the study area. Actual evapotranspiration decreased for the southeastern part of the study area and increased for the northwestern part of the study area. The results showed general decreases in runoff across the study area, with increases in runoff in areas surrounding large metropolitan regions where potential future increases in impervious area occur. Results from a statistical analysis (Kolmogorov-Smirnov test) showed that the downscaled general circulation models generally have more skill in producing historical streamflow statistics in the duration and magnitude categories and less skill in producing historical streamflow statistics in the frequency, rate of change, and timing categories for this study area. The potential changes in the streamflow statistics and the results of the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test are available through the GCPO LCC Conservation Planning Atlas, an online science-based mapping platform built specifically for land managers and planners.

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