Past and future changes in climate and hydrological indicators in the US Northeast

Abstract

To assess the influence of global climate change at the regional scale, we examine past and future changes in key climate, hydrological, and biophysical indicators across the US Northeast (NE). We first consider the extent to which simulations of twentieth century climate from nine atmosphere-ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) are able to reproduce observed changes in these indicators. We then evaluate projected future trends in primary climate characteristics and indicators of change, including seasonal temperatures, rainfall and drought, snow cover, soil moisture, streamflow, and changes in biometeorological indicators that depend on threshold or accumulated temperatures such as growing season, frost days, and Spring Indices (SI). Changes in indicators for which temperature-related signals have already been observed (seasonal warming patterns, advances in high-spring streamflow, decreases in snow depth, extended growing seasons, earlier bloom dates) are generally reproduced by past model simulations and are projected to continue in the future. Other indicators for which trends have not yet been observed also show projected future changes consistent with a warmer climate (shrinking snow cover, more frequent droughts, and extended low-flow periods in summer). The magnitude of temperature-driven trends in the future are generally projected to be higher under the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) mid-high (A2) and higher (A1FI) emissions scenarios than under the lower (B1) scenario. These results provide confidence regarding the direction of many regional climate trends, and highlight the fundamental role of future emissions in determining the potential magnitude of changes we can expect over the coming century.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/

  2. 2.

    Based on available A1FI simulations from HadCM3, GFDL CM2.1 and PCM1 only.

  3. 3.

    Monthly SST outputs for the historical and future periods were available from the CCSM3, CGCM3, HadCM3, Miroc (med res) and PCM1 models.

  4. 4.

    The date of peak streamflow is defined as the center of volume, or the date on which half of the flow occurring between 1 January and 31 May has passed the gauge.

  5. 5.

    For rivers, the presence of ice can be determined by stream discharge measurements based on continuously measured river stages, which are affected by ice in easily identifiable ways.

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Acknowledgments

This manuscript benefited greatly from comments and suggestions by Dan Cayan and Chester Zenone (USGS), and two anonymous reviewers. We acknowledge the international modeling groups for providing their data for analysis, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) for collecting and archiving the model output, the JSC/CLIVAR Working Group on Coupled Modeling (WGCM) and their Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and Climate Simulation Panel for organizing the model output analysis activity, and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. The IPCC Data Archive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy. We gratefully acknowledge the Union of Concerned Scientists, who catalyzed this research as the first stage of a forthcoming Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment Report. Contributions to this study were as follows: synthesis and manuscript preparation, model-simulated temperature and precipitation analysis, growing season analysis, data provision for hydrological and biometerological analyses (Hayhoe), synthesis and manuscript preparation, observed temperature and precipitation analysis (Wake), observed and model-simulated streamflow analysis (Huntington), VIC and river routing model simulations (Luo), SI and growing season analysis (Schwartz), VIC data analysis for terrestrial hydrology, streamflow, drought and snow (Sheffield), hydrologic analysis and support (Wood), precipitation and temperature extremes and synthesis (Anderson), SST and drought analysis (Bradbury), precipitation and temperature extremes (DeGaetano), assistance with VIC model simulations (Troy), ecosystem response analysis (Wolfe).

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Hayhoe, K., Wake, C.P., Huntington, T.G. et al. Past and future changes in climate and hydrological indicators in the US Northeast. Clim Dyn 28, 381–407 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-006-0187-8

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Keywords

  • Streamflow
  • Winter Precipitation
  • Gulf Stream
  • Snow Water Equivalence
  • Variable Infiltration Capacity