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On the simulation of Laurentian Great Lakes water levels under projections of global climate change


A new method is proposed to estimate future net basin supplies and lake levels for the Laurentian Great Lakes based on GCM projections of global climate change. The method first dynamically downscales the GCM simulation with a regional climate model, and then bias—corrects the simulated net basin supply in order to be used directly in a river—routing/lake level scheme. This technique addresses two weaknesses in the traditional approach, whereby observed sequences of climate variables are perturbed with fixed ratios or differences derived directly from GCMs in order to run evaporation and runoff models. Specifically, (1) land surface—atmosphere feedback processes are represented, and (2) changes in variability can be analyzed with the new approach.

The method is demonstrated with a single, high resolution simulation, where small changes in future mean lake levels for all the upper Great Lakes are found, and an increase in seasonal range—especially for Lake Superior—is indicated. Analysis of a small ensemble of eight lower resolution regional climate model simulations supports these findings. In addition, a direct comparison with the traditional approach based on the same GCM projections used as the driving simulations in this ensemble shows that the new method indicates smaller declines in level for all the upper Great Lakes than has been reported previously based on the traditional method, though median differences are only a few centimetres in each case.

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The CRCM4.2.3 data has been generated and supplied by Ouranos. We would also like to thank the Canadian Center for Climate Modelling and Analysis for providing the CGCM3 archives. Jim Angel is kindly acknowledged for providing the data from Angel and Kunkel 2010. Funding for this research was provided by the International Upper Great Lakes Study.

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Correspondence to Murray MacKay.

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MacKay, M., Seglenieks, F. On the simulation of Laurentian Great Lakes water levels under projections of global climate change. Climatic Change 117, 55–67 (2013).

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  • Great Lake
  • Regional Climate Model
  • Lake Level
  • Great Lake Region
  • Climate Period