Climatic Change

, Volume 133, Issue 4, pp 651–663 | Cite as

Climate change impacts on streamflow availability for the Athabasca Oil Sands

Article

Abstract

Future bitumen production in the Athabasca Oil Sands, one of the largest remaining reserves of petroleum on the planet, is a key factor in global climate policy and politics. Climate warming in the Athabasca River Basin (ARB) has the potential to limit future streamflow availability for aquatic ecosystem needs, as well as for water withdrawals in oil sands mining operations. This study applies the land surface model IBIS and the hydrological routing algorithm THMB, with forced output from CMIP5 global climate models, to examine the response of streamflow in the ARB to climate change this century. In comparison to the small impact of water withdrawals on streamflow, climate change impacts are projected to be the primary driver of future low flow occurrences. Although winter flows are most sensitive to water withdrawals under the historical hydroclimatological regime, future climate change is projected to increase winter flows and decrease summer flows instead, with the frequency of summer low flows projected to rise by up to 85 % in the highest future emissions scenario by the end of the century. A decline in water availability due to more frequent low flows could interrupt oil sands water withdrawals and subsequent daily bitumen production for an additional 2–3 months each year by mid-century. Adaptation to climate warming in the ARB will need to recognize these changing seasonal patterns of flow in order to maintain available flows for ecological needs and water withdrawals.

Supplementary material

10584_2015_1479_MOESM1_ESM.docx (233 kb)
Online Resource 1(DOCX 232 kb)
10584_2015_1479_MOESM2_ESM.docx (37 kb)
Online Resource 2(DOCX 36 kb)
10584_2015_1479_MOESM3_ESM.docx (46 kb)
Online Resource 3(DOCX 46 kb)

References

  1. Alberta Environment (2007) Water management framework: instream flow needs and water management system for the Lower Athabasca River. Technical report, Alberta Environment and Fisheries and Oceans CanadaGoogle Scholar
  2. Alberta Environment (2009) Environmental management of Alberta’s oil sands resource. Responsible. Catalogue #ENV-748-O. http://www.environment.gov.ab.ca/info/library/8042.pdf. Accessed Jan 2013
  3. AMEC Earth & Environmental (2007) Athabasca river basin. In: Current and future water use in Alberta. Alberta Environment, Edmonton, p 64Google Scholar
  4. Andrews T, Gregory JM, Webb MJ, Taylor KE (2012) Forcing, feedbacks, and climate sensitivity in CMIP5 coupled atmosphere-ocean climate models. Geophys Res Lett 39(9):1–7Google Scholar
  5. Arnell NW, Reynard NS (1996) The effects of climate change due to global warming on river flows in Great Britain. J Hydrol 183:397–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burn DH (2008) Climatic influences on streamflow timing in the headwaters of the Mackenzie River Basin. J Hydrol 352:225–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burn DH, Abdul Aziz OI, Pietroniro A (2004) A comparison of trends in hydrological variables for two watersheds in the Mackenzie River Basin. Can Water Resour J 29(4):283–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Christensen JH, Kumar KK, Aldrian E, An S-I, Cavalcanti IFA, de Castro M, Dong W, Goswami P, Hall A, Kanyanga JK, Kitoh A, Kossin J, Lau N-C, Renwick J, Stephenson DB, Xie S-P, Zhou T (2013) Climate phenomena and their relevance for future regional climate change. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V, Midgley PM (eds) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  9. Coe MT, Foley JA (2001) Human and natural impacts on the water resources of the Lake Chad basin. J Geophys Res 106(D4):3349–3356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coe MT, Costa MH, Botta A, Birkett C (2002) Long-term simulations of discharge and floods in the Amazon Basin. J Geophys Res 107(D20):8044–8060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dettinger MD, Cayan DR, Meyer MK, Jeton AE (2004) Simulated hydrologic responses to climate variations and change in the Merced, Carson and American River Basins, Sierra Nevada, California, 1900–2099. Clim Chang 62:283–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donner SD (2002) The impact of climate and land use on nitrate export by the Mississippi River. Dissertation, University of WisconsinGoogle Scholar
  13. El Maayar M, Price DT, Delire C, Foley JA, Black TA, Bessemoulin P (2001) Validation of the integrated biosphere simulator over Canadian deciduous and coniferous boreal forest stands. J Geophys Res 106(D13):14339–14355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Foley JA, Prentic IC, Ramankutty N, Levis S, Pollard D, Sitch S, Haxeltine A (1996) An integrated biosphere model of land surface processes, terrestrial carbon balance, and vegetation dynamics. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 10(4):603–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hamilton H, Thompson M, Corkum L (1985) Water quality overview of Athabasca River Basin. Technical report, Alberta Environment Planning Division, Nanuk Engineering and Development, Cochrane, AlbertaGoogle Scholar
  16. Hay LE, Wilby RL, Leavesley GH (2000) A comparison of delta change and downscaled GCM scenarios for three mountainous basins in the United States. J Am Water Resour Assoc 36(2):387–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hinzman LD, Bettez ND, Bolton WR, Chapin FS, Dyurgerov MB, Fastie CL, Griffith B, Hollister RD, Hope A, Huntington HP, Jensen AM, Jia GJ, Jorgenson T, Kane DL, Klein DR, Kofinas G, Lynch AH, Lloyd AH, McGuire AD, Nelson FE, Oechel WC, Osterkamp TE, Racine CH, Romanovsky VE, Stone RS, Stow DA, Sturm M, Tweedie CE, Vourlitis GL, Walker MD, Walker DA, Webber PJ, Welker JM, Winker KS, Yoshikawa K (2005) Evidence and implications of recent climate change in northern Alaska and other arctic regions. Clim Chang 72:251–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kerkhoven E, Gan TY (2006) A modified ISBA surface scheme for modeling the hydrology of Athabasca River Basin with GCM-scale data. Adv Water Resour 29:808–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kerkhoven E, Gan TY (2011) Differences and sensitivities in potential hydrologic impact of climate change to regional-scale Athabasca and Fraser River basins of the leeward and windward sides of the Canadian Rocky Mountains respectively. Clim Chang 106:583–607CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kucharik CJ, Foley JA, Delire C, Fisher VA, Coe MT, Lenters JD, Young-Molling C, Ramankutty N, Norman JM, Gower ST (2000) Testing the performance of a dynamic global ecosystem model: water balance, carbon balance, and vegetation structure. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 14(3):795–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Landres PB, Morgan P, Swanson FJ (1999) Overview of the use of natural variability concepts in managing ecological systems. Ecol Appl 9:1179–1188Google Scholar
  22. Lenters JD, Coe MT, Foley JA (2000) Surface water balance of the continental United States, 1963–1995: regional evaluation of a terrestrial biosphere model and the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis. J Geophys Res 105(D17):22393–22425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Li KY, Coe MT, Ramankutty N (2005) Investigation of hydrological variability in West Africa using land surface models. J Clim 18(16):2893–2908CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Liu J, Price DT, Chen J (2005) Nitrogen controls on ecosystem carbon sequestration: a model implementation and application to Saskatchewan, Canada. Ecol Model 86:178–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Locke A, Paul A (2011) A desk-top method for establishing environmental flows in Alberta rivers and streams. Technical report, Alberta Environment and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Edmonton, AlbertaGoogle Scholar
  26. Longley R, Janz B (1978) The climatology of the Alberta oil sands environmental research program study area. AOSERP Project ME 1.0, Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program, Edmonton, AlbertaGoogle Scholar
  27. Mannix AE, Dridi C, Adamowicz WL (2010) Water availability in the oil sands under projections of increasing demands and a changing climate: an assessment of the Lower Athabasca water management framework (Phase 1). Can Water Resour J 35(1):29–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moss RH, Edmonds JA, Hibbard KA, Manning MR, Rose SK, van Vuuren DP, Carter TR, Emori S, Kainuman M, Kram T, Meehl GA, Mitchell JFB, Nakicenovic N, Riahi K, Smith SJ, Stouffer RJ, Thomson AM, Weyant JP, Wilbanks TJ (2010) The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature 463:747–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Natural Resources Canada (2009) Water use by the natural resources sector: factsGoogle Scholar
  30. Ohlson D, Long G, Hatfield T (2010) Phase 2 framework committee report. Report, Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), Fort McMurray, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  31. Pietroniro A, Leconte R, Toght B, Peters DL, Kouwen N, Conly FM, Prowse T (2006) Modelling climate change impacts in the Peace and Athabasca catchment and delta: III—integrated model assessment. Hydrol Process 20:4231–4245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Prowse TD, Beltaos S, Gardner JT, Gibson JJ, Granger RJ, Leconte R, Peters DL, Pietroniro A, Romolo LA, Toth B (2006) Climate change, flow regulation and landuse effects on the hydrology of the Peace-Athabasca-Slave system. Findings from the Northern Rivers Ecosystem Initiative. Environ Monit Assess 113(1-3):167–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sauchyn D, Kulshreshtha S (2008) Chapter 7 prairies. In: Lemmen DS, Warren FJ, Lacroix J, Bush E (eds) From impacts to adaptation—Canada in a changing climate. Government of Canada, Ottawa, pp 275–328Google Scholar
  34. Schindler DW, Donahue WF (2006) An impending water crisis in Canada’s western prairie provinces. Proc Natl Acad Sci 103(19):7210–7216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schnorbus MA, Bennett KE, Werner AT, Berland AJ (2011) Hydrologic impacts of climate change in the Peace, Campbell, and Columbia watersheds, British Columbia, Canada: hydrologic modelling project. Final Report 2, Pacific Climate Impacts ConsortiumGoogle Scholar
  36. Squires AJ, Westbrook CH, Dube MG (2009) An approach for assessing cumulative effects in a model river, the Athabasca River basin. Integr Environ Assess Manag 6:119–134Google Scholar
  37. Stewart IT, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD (2004) Changes in snowmelt runoff timing in western North America under a ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario. Clim Chang 62:217–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Swainson B (2009) Rivers at risk: the status of environmental flows in Canada. Technical report, WWF CanadaGoogle Scholar
  39. Swart NC, Weaver AJ (2012) The Alberta oil sands and climate. Nat Clim Chang 2:134–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Taylor K, Stouffer R, Meehl G (2012) An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 93:485–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. The Oil Sands Developers Group (2013) Oil sands project list. http://www.oilsandsdevelopers.ca/index.php/library. Accessed April 2013
  42. Toth B, Pietroniro A, Conly FM, Kouwen N (2006) Modelling climate change impacts in the Peace and Athabasca catchment and delta: I—hydrological model application. Hydrol Process 20:4197–4214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wolfe BB, Hall RI, Edwards WD, Vardy SR, Falcone MD, Sjunneskog C, Sylvestre F, McGowan S, Leavitt PR, van Driel P (2008) Hydroecological responses of the Athabasca Delta, Canada, to changes in river flow and climate during the 20th century. Ecohydrology 1:131–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zhang X, Harvey K, Hogg W, Yuzyk T (2001) Trends in Canadian streamflow. Water Resour Res 37(4):987–998CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations