Climatic Change

, Volume 102, Issue 1–2, pp 225–260 | Cite as

Implications of 21st century climate change for the hydrology of Washington State

  • Marketa M. ElsnerEmail author
  • Lan Cuo
  • Nathalie Voisin
  • Jeffrey S. Deems
  • Alan F. Hamlet
  • Julie A. Vano
  • Kristian E. B. Mickelson
  • Se-Yeun Lee
  • Dennis P. Lettenmaier


Pacific Northwest (PNW) hydrology is particularly sensitive to changes in climate because snowmelt dominates seasonal runoff, and temperature changes impact the rain/snow balance. Based on results from the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4), we updated previous studies of implications of climate change on PNW hydrology. PNW 21st century hydrology was simulated using 20 Global Climate Models (GCMs) and 2 greenhouse gas emissions scenarios over Washington and the greater Columbia River watershed, with additional focus on the Yakima River watershed and the Puget Sound which are particularly sensitive to climate change. We evaluated projected changes in snow water equivalent (SWE), soil moisture, runoff, and streamflow for A1B and B1 emissions scenarios for the 2020s, 2040s, and 2080s. April 1 SWE is projected to decrease by approximately 38–46% by the 2040s (compared with the mean over water years 1917–2006), based on composite scenarios of B1 and A1B, respectively, which represent average effects of all climate models. In three relatively warm transient watersheds west of the Cascade crest, April 1 SWE is projected to almost completely disappear by the 2080s. By the 2080s, seasonal streamflow timing will shift significantly in both snowmelt dominant and rain–snow mixed watersheds. Annual runoff across the State is projected to increase by 2–3% by the 2040s; these changes are mainly driven by projected increases in winter precipitation.


Streamflow Snow Water Equivalent Nash Sutcliffe Efficiency Variable Infiltration Capacity Columbia River Basin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alberti M, Weeks R, Coe S (2004) Urban land-cover change analysis in central Puget Sound. Photogramm Eng Remote Sensing 70:1043–1052Google Scholar
  2. Andreadis K, Storck P, Lettenmaier DP (2009) Modeling snow accumulation and ablation processes in forested environments. Water Resour Res 45:W05429. doi: 10.1029/2008WR007042 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett TP, Adam JC, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions. Nature 438:303–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett TP, Pierce DW, Hidalgo HG, Bonfils C, Santer BD, Das T, Bala G, Wood AW, Nozawa T, Mirin AA, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD (2008) Human-induced changes in the hydrology of the western United States. Science 319(5866):1080–1083CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beven KJ, Kirkby MJ (1979) A physically based, variable contributing area model of basin hydrology. Hydrol Sci Bull 24(1):43–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bowling LC, Lettenmaier DP (2001) The effects of forest roads and harvest on catchment hydrology in a mountainous maritime environment. In: Wigmosta MS, Burges SJ (eds) Land use and watersheds: human influence on hydrology and geomorphology in urban and forest areas, AGU Water Sci Appl, vol 2, pp 145–164Google Scholar
  7. Bowling LC, Storck P, Lettenmaier DP (2000) Hydrologic effects of logging in western Washington, United States. Wat Resour Res 36:3223–3240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brekke LD, Miller NL, Bashford KE, Quinn NWT, Dracup JA (2004) Climate change impacts uncertainty for water resources in the San Joaquin river basin, California. J Am Water Resour Assoc 40(1):149–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Casola JH, Kay JE, Snover AK, Norheim RA, Whitely Binder LC, Climate Impacts Group (2005) Climate impacts on Washington’s hydropower, water Supply, forests, fish, and agriculture. A report prepared for King County (Washington) by the Climate Impacts Group, Center for Science in the Earth System, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  10. Cherkauer KA, Bowling LC, Lettenmaier DP (2003) Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) cold land process model updates. Glob Planet Change 38(1–2):151–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Christensen N, Lettenmaier DP (2007) A multimodel ensemble approach to assessment of climate change impacts on the hydrology and water resources of the Colorado River basin. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 11:1417–1434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christensen NS, Wood AW, Voisin N, Lettenmaier DP, Palmer RN (2004) The effects of climate change on the hydrology and water resources of the Colorado River basin. Clim Change 62:337–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cuo L, Lettenmaier DP, Mattheussen BP, Storck P, Wiley M (2008) Hydrological prediction for urban watersheds with the distributed hydrology–soil–vegetation model. Hydrol Process 22(21):4205–4213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cuo L, Lettenmaier DP, Alberti M, Richey JE (2009) Effects of a century of land cover and climate change on the hydrology of Puget Sound basin. Hydrol Process 23:907–933CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Daly C, Neilson RP, Phillips DL (1994) A statistical–topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain. J Appl Meteorol 33:140–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Daly C, Gibson WP, Taylor G, Johnson GL, Pasteris P (2002) A knowledge-based approach to the statistical mapping of climate. Clim Res 22:99–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dooge JC (1992) Hydrologic models and climate change. J Geophys Res 97(D3):2677–2686Google Scholar
  18. Easterling DR, Horton B, Jones PD, Peterson TC, Karl TR, Parker DE, Salinger MJ, Razuvayev V, Plummer N, Jamason P, Folland CK (1997) Maximum and minimum temperature trends for the globe. Science 18:364–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Economic and Engineering Services, Inc (2003) Watershed management plan, Yakima River basin. For Yakima River watershed planning unit and Tri-County water resources agencyGoogle Scholar
  20. Hamlet AF, Lettenmaier DP (1999) Effects of climate change on hydrology and water resources of the Columbia River basin. J Am Water Resour Assoc 35:1597–1624CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hamlet AF, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Production of temporally consistent gridded precipitation and temperature fields for the continental United States. J Hydrometeorol 6:330–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hamlet AF, Lettenmaier DP (2007) Effects of 20th century warming and climate variability on flood risk in the western US. Water Resour Res 43:W06427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hamlet AF, Mote PW, Clark M, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Effects of temperature and precipitation variability on snowpack trends in the western United States. J Clim 18(21):4545–4561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hamlet AF, Lee SY, Mickelson KEB, Elsner MM (2010) Effects of projected climate change on energy supply and demand in the Pacific Northwest and Washington State. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9857-y Google Scholar
  25. Hayhoe K, Wake C, Huntington TG, Luo L, Schwartz MD, Sheffield J, Wood EF, Anderson B, Bradbury J, DeGaetano TT, Wolfe D (2007) Past and future changes in climate and hydrological indicators in the US Northeast. Clim Dyn 28:381–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. IPCC (1995) IPCC Second assessment: report of working group I - the science of climate change, with a Summary for Policymakers (SPM). In: Houghton JT, Meira Filho MG, Callender BA, Harris N, Kattenberg A, Maskell K (eds). Cambridge University Press, UK, 572 ppGoogle Scholar
  27. IPCC (2001) Climate change 2001: the scientific basis. In: Houghton JT, Ding Y, Griggs DJ, Noguer M, van der Linden PJ, Dai X, Maskell K, Johnson CA (eds) Contribution of working group I to the third assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 881 ppGoogle Scholar
  28. IPCC (2007) Summary for policymakers. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  29. Kalaney E et al (1996) The NCEP/NCAR 40-year reanalysis project. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 77:437–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lamarche J, Lettenmaier DP (2001) Effects of forest roads on flood flows in the Deschutes River basin, Washington. Earth Surf Process Landf 26:115–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lettenmaier DP, Wood AW, Palmer RN, Wood EF, Stakhiv EZ (1999) Water resources implications of global warming: a U.S. regional perspective. Clim Change 43(3):537–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Leung LR, Wigmosta MS, Ghan SJ, Epstein DJ, Vail LW (1996) Application of a subgrid orographic precipitation/surface hydrology scheme to a mountain watershed. J Geophys Res 101(D8):12803–12817CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Liang X, Lettenmaier DP, Wood EF, Burges SJ (1994) A simple hydrologically based model of land surface water and energy fluxes for GSMs. J Geophys Res 99(D7):14,415–14,428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Liang X, Wood EF, Lettenmaier DP (1996) Surface soil moisture parameterization of the VIC-2L model: evaluation and modifications. Glob Planet Change 13:195–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Liang X, Wood EF, Lohmann D, Lettenmaier DP and others (1998) The project for intercomparison of land-surface parameterization schemes (PILPS) phase-2c Red-Arkansas River basin experiment: 2. Spatial and temporal analysis of energy fluxes. J Glob Planet Change 19:137–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Littell JS, Oneil EE, McKenzie D, Hicke JA, Lutz J, Norheim RA, Elsner MM (2010) Forest ecosystems, disturbance, and climatic change in Washington State, USA. Clim Change. doi:  10.1007/s10584-010-9858-x Google Scholar
  37. Mantua N, Tohver IM, Hamlet AF (2010) Climate change impacts on streamflow extremes and summertime stream temperature and their possible consequences for freshwater salmon habitat in Washington State. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9845-2 Google Scholar
  38. Matheussen B, Kirschbaum RL, Goodman IA, O’Donnell GM, Lettenmaier DP (2000) Effects of land cover change on streamflow in the interior Columbia basin. Hydrol Process 14(5):867–885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Maurer EP (2007) Uncertainty in hydrologic impacts of climate change in the Sierra Nevada, California under two emissions scenarios. Clim Change 82(3–4):309–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Maurer EP, Duffy PB (2005) Uncertainty in projections of streamflow changes due to climate change in California. Geophys Res Lett 32(3):L03704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Maurer EP, Wood AW, Adam JC, Lettenmaier DP, Nijssen B (2002) A long-term hydrologically based dataset of land surface fluxes and states for the conterminous United States. J Clim 15:3237–3251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Meehl GA, Stocker TF, Collins WD, Friedlingstein P, Gaye AT, Gregory JM, Kitoh A, Knutti R, Murphy JM, Noda A, Raper SCB, Watterson IG, Weaver AJ, Zhao Z-C (2007) Global climate projections. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller NL, Bashford KE, Strem E (2003) Potential impacts of climate change on California hydrology. J Am Water Resour Assoc 39:771–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Milly PCD, Dunne KA, Vecchia AV (2005) Global pattern of trends in streamflow and water availability in a changing climate. Nature 438:347–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Milly PCD, Betancourt J, Falkenmark M, Hirsch RM, Kundzewicz ZW, Lettenmaier DP, Stouffer RJ (2008) Stationarity is dead: whither water management. Science 319:573–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mote PW (2006) Climate-driven variability and trends in mountain snowpack in western North America. J Clim 19(23):6209–6220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mote PW, Salathé EP Jr (2010) Future climate in the Pacific Northwest. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9848-z Google Scholar
  48. Mote PW, Hamlet AF, Clark M, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Declining mountain snowpack in western North America. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 86(1):39–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nakićenović N, Swart R (eds) (2000) Special report on emissions scenarios. A special report of working group III of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 599Google Scholar
  50. Nash LL, Gleick PH (1991) The sensitivity of streamflow in the Colorado Basin to climatic changes. J Hydrol 125:221–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nijssen BN, Lettenmaier DP, Liang X, Wetzel SW, Wood EF (1997) Streamflow simulation for continental-scale river basins. Water Resour Res 33(4):711–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nijssen BN, O’Donnell GM, Lettenmaier DP, Lohmann D, Wood EF (2001) Predicting the discharge of global rivers. J Clim 14:3307–3323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Payne JT, Wood AW, Hamlet AF, Palmer RN, Lettenmaier DP (2004) Mitigating the effects of climate change on the water resources of the Columbia River basin. Clim Change 62:233–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Refsgaard JC, Storm S (1996) Distributed hydrologic modeling. Chapter 3: construction, calibration, and validation of hydrological models. Kluwer Academic PublishersGoogle Scholar
  55. Salathé EP, Mote PW, Wiley MW (2007) Review of scenario selection and downscaling methods for the assessment of climate change impacts on hydrology in the United States Pacific Northwest. Int J Climatol 27(12):1611–1621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Salathé EP Jr, Leung LR, Qian Y, Zhang Y (2010) Regional climate model projections for the State of Washington. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9849-y Google Scholar
  57. Sankarasubramanian A, Vogel RM, Limbrunner JF (2001) Climate elasticity of streamflow in the United States. Water Resour Res 37(6):1771–1781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schaake JC (1990) From climate to flow. In: Waggoner PE (ed) Climate change and US water resources. John Wiley, New York, pp 177–206Google Scholar
  59. Shepard DS (1984) Computer mapping: the SYMAP interpolation algorithm. In: Willmott GL, Reidel CJ (eds) Spatial statistics and Models Gaille, pp 133–145Google Scholar
  60. Snover AK, Hamlet AF, Lettenmaier DP (2003) Climate change scenarios for water planning studies: pilot applications in the Pacific Northwest. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 84(11):1513–1518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stewart IT, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD (2005) Changes toward earlier streamflow timing across western North America. J Clim 18:1136–1155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Vano JA, Voisin N, Cuo L, Hamlet AF, Elsner MM, Palmer RN, Polebitski A, Lettenmaier DP (2010a) Climate change impacts on water management in the Puget Sound region, Washington State, USA. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9846-1 Google Scholar
  63. Vano JA, Voisin N, Scott M, Stöckle CO, Hamlet AF, Mickelson KEB, Elsner MM, Lettenmaier DP (2010b) Climate change impacts on water management and irrigated agriculture in the Yakima River Basin, Washington, USA. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-010-9856-z Google Scholar
  64. Van Rheenen NT, Wood AW, Palmer RN, Lettenmaier DP (2004) Potential implications of PCM climate change scenarios for California hydrology and water resources. Clim Change 62:257–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. VanShaar JR, Haddeland I, Lettenmaier DP (2002) Effects of land cover changes on the hydrologic response of interior Columbia River Basin forested catchments. Hydrol Process 16(13):2499–2520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Vicuna S, Maurer EP, Joyce B, Dracup JA, Purkey D (2007) The sensitivity of California water resources to climate change scenarios. J Am Water Res Assoc 43(2):482–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wang A, Bohn TJ, Mahanama SP, Koster RD, Lettenmaier DP (2009) Multimodel ensemble reconstruction of drought over the continental United States. J Clim 22:2694–2712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wigmosta MS, Lettenmaier DP (1999) A comparison of simplified methods for routing topographically driven subsurface flow. Water Resour Res 35(1):255–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wigmosta MS, Vail LW, Lettenmaier DP (1994) A distributed hydrology: vegetation model for complex terrain. Can J For Res 30:1665–1679Google Scholar
  70. Wood AW, Maurer EP, Kumar A, Lettenmaier DP (2002) Long range experimental hydrologic forecasting for the eastern US. J Geophys Res 107(D20):4429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wood AW, Leung LR, Sridhar V, Lettenmaier DP (2004) Hydrologic implications of dynamical and statistical approaches to downscaling climate model outputs. Clim Change 62(1–3):189–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© U.S. Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marketa M. Elsner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lan Cuo
    • 2
  • Nathalie Voisin
    • 3
  • Jeffrey S. Deems
    • 4
  • Alan F. Hamlet
    • 1
    • 3
  • Julie A. Vano
    • 3
  • Kristian E. B. Mickelson
    • 5
  • Se-Yeun Lee
    • 3
  • Dennis P. Lettenmaier
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Science in the Earth System, Climate Impacts GroupUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Australia Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)HighettAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.National Snow and Ice Data Center449 UCB University of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  5. 5.US Army Corps of EngineersSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations