Climatic Change

, Volume 62, Issue 1–3, pp 283–317 | Cite as

Simulated Hydrologic Responses to Climate Variations and Change in the Merced, Carson, and American River Basins, Sierra Nevada, California, 1900–2099

  • Michael D. Dettinger
  • Daniel R. Cayan
  • Mary K. Meyer
  • Anne E. Jeton


Hydrologic responses of river basins in the Sierra Nevada of California to historical and future climate variations and changes are assessed by simulating daily streamflow and water-balance responses to simulated climate variations over a continuous 200-yr period. The coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice-land Parallel Climate Model provides the simulated climate histories, and existing hydrologic models of the Merced, Carson, and American Rivers are used to simulate the basin responses. The historical simulations yield stationary climate and hydrologic variations through the first part of the 20th century until about 1975 when temperatures begin to warm noticeably and when snowmelt and streamflow peaks begin to occur progressively earlier within the seasonal cycle. A future climate simulated with business-as-usual increases in greenhouse-gas and aerosol radiative forcings continues those recent trends through the 21st century with an attendant +2.5 °C warming and a hastening of snowmelt and streamflow within the seasonal cycle by almost a month. The various projected trends in the business-as-usual simulations become readily visible despite realistic simulated natural climatic and hydrologic variability by about 2025. In contrast to these changes that are mostly associated with streamflow timing, long-term average totals of streamflow and other hydrologic fluxes remain similar to the historical mean in all three simulations. A control simulation in which radiative forcings are held constant at 1995 levels for the 50 years following 1995 yields climate and streamflow timing conditions much like the 1980s and 1990s throughout its duration. The availability of continuous climate-change projection outputs and careful design of initial conditions and control experiments, like those utilized here, promise to improve the quality and usability of future climate-change impact assessments.


Streamflow Simulated Climate Radiative Forcings Hydrologic Response Daily Streamflow 
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. Aguado, E., Cayan, D. R., Riddle, L., and Roos, M.: 1992, ‘Climatic Fluctuations and the Timing of West Coast Streamflow’, J. Climate 5, 468–1483.Google Scholar
  2. Barnett, T. P., Pierce, D. W., and Schnur, R.: 2001, ‘Detection of Anthropogenic Climate Change in the World's Oceans’, Science 292, 270–274.Google Scholar
  3. Briegleb, B. P. and Bromwich, D. H.: 1998, ‘Polar Radiation Budgets of the NCAR CCM3’, J. Climate 11, 1246–1269.Google Scholar
  4. Cayan, D. R., Kammerdiener, S., Dettinger, M. D., Caprio, J. M., and Peterson, D.H.: 2001, ‘Changes in the Onset of Spring in the Western United States’, Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 82, 399–415.Google Scholar
  5. Cayan, D. R. and Webb, R. H.: 1992, ‘El Nino/Southern Oscillation and Streamflow in the Western United States’, in Diaz, H. F. and Marlkgraf, V. (eds.), El Niño: Historical and Paleoclimatic Aspects of the Southern Oscillation, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 29–68.Google Scholar
  6. Dai, A., Washington, W. M., Meehl, G. A., Bettge, T. W., and Strand, W. G.: 2004, ‘The ACPI Climate Change Simulations’, Clim. Change 62, 29–43.Google Scholar
  7. Dai, A., Wigley, T. M. L., Boville, B. A., Kiehl, J. T., and Buja, L. E.: 2001, ‘Climates of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries Simulated by the NCAR Climate System Model’, J. Climate 14, 485–519.Google Scholar
  8. Dettinger, M. D.: 1997, ‘Forecasting Runoff Pulses in the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, California, Springs 1979-97’’, EOS 78, F218.Google Scholar
  9. Dettinger, M. D. and Cayan, D. R.: 1995, ‘Large-Scale Atmospheric Forcing of Recent Trends toward Early Snowmelt in California’, J. Climate 8, 606–623.Google Scholar
  10. Dettinger, M. D., Mo, K., Cayan, D. R., and Jeton, A. E.: 1999, ‘Global to Local Scale Simulations of Streamflow in the Merced, American, and Carson Rivers, Sierra Nevada, California’, Preprints, AMS, 14th Conf. Hydrology, 80–82.Google Scholar
  11. Dettinger, M. D., Mo, K. C., Cayan, D. R., and Peterson, D. H.: 1998, ‘Hindcasts and Forecasts of Streamflow in the Merced and American Rivers, Sierra Nevada, during Recent El Ninos’, EOS 79, F326.Google Scholar
  12. Ding, Y. and Houghton, J. T. (eds.): 2001, Climate Change 2001–The Scientific Basis: Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, New York, 881 pp.Google Scholar
  13. Gleick, P. H.: 1987, ‘The Development and Testing of a Water Balance Model for Climate Change Impact Assessment–Modeling the Sacramento basin’, Water Resour. Res. 23, 1049–1061.Google Scholar
  14. Hack, J. J., Kiehl, J. T., and Hurrell, J. W.: 1998, ‘The Hydrologic and Thermodynamic Characteristics of the NCAR CCM3’, J. Climate 11, 1179–1206.Google Scholar
  15. Hurrell, J., Hack, J. J., Boville, B. A., Williamson, D., and Kiehl, J. T.: 1998, ‘The Dynamical Simulation of the NCAR Community Climate Model Version 3 (CCM3)’, J. Climate 11, 1207–1236.Google Scholar
  16. Jeton, A. E., Dettinger, M. D., and Smith, J. L.: 1996, Potential Effects of Elimate Change on Streamflow, Eastern and Western Slopes of the Sierra Nevada, California and Nevada, USGS, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-4260, 44 pp.Google Scholar
  17. Jeton, A. E. and Smith, J. L.: 1993, ‘Development of Watershed Models for Two Sierra Nevada Basins using a Geographic Information System’, Water Resour. Bull. 29, 923–932.Google Scholar
  18. Kiehl, J. T, Hack, J. J., Bonan, G. B., Boville, B. A., Williamson, D. L., and Rasch, P. J.: 1998, ‘The National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate Model: CCM3’, J. Climate 11, 1131–1149.Google Scholar
  19. Kim, J.: 2001, ‘A Nested Modeling Study of Elevation-Dependent Climate Change Signals in California Induced by Increased Atmospheric CO2’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 28, 2951–2954.Google Scholar
  20. Knowles, N. and Cayan, D.: 2001, ‘Global Climate Change-Potential Effects on the Sacramento/ San Joaquin Watershed and the San Francisco Estuary’, Interagency Ecological Studies Program for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary Newsletter (Summer), 23–30.Google Scholar
  21. Leavesley, G. H., Lichty, R. W., Troutman, B. M., and Saindon, L. G.: 1983, ‘Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System: User's Manual’, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 83-4238, 207 pp.Google Scholar
  22. Leggett, J. A., Pepper, W. J., and Swart, R. J.: 1992, ‘Emissions Scenarios for IPCC: An Update’, in Houghton, J. T., Callande, B. A., and Varney, S. K. (eds)., Climate Change 1992: The Supplementary Report to the IPCC Scientific Assessment, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 69–95.Google Scholar
  23. Lettenmaier, D. P. and Gan, T. Y.: 1990, ‘Hydrologic Sensitivities of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin, California, to Global Warming’, Water Resour. Res. 26, 69–86.Google Scholar
  24. Lindberg, C. and Broccoli, A. J.: 1995, ‘Representation of Topography in Spectral Climate Models and its Effect on Simulated Precipitation’, Preprints, AMS 7th Conf. Mountain Meteorology, 6–11.Google Scholar
  25. Mantua, N. J., Hare, S. R., Zhang, Y., Wallace, J. M., and Francis, R. C.: 1997, ‘A Pacific Interdecadal Climate Oscillation with Impacts on Salmon Production’, Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 78, 1069–1079.Google Scholar
  26. Miller, N., Kim, J. W., and Dettinger, M. D.: 1999, ‘California Streamflow Evaluation Based on a Dynamically Downscaled 8-Year Hindcast (1988-1995), Observations, and Physically Based Hydrologic Models’, Eos 80, F406.Google Scholar
  27. Miller, N. L., Kim, J. W., and Dettinger, M. D.: 2000, ‘Climate Change Sensitivity Analysis of Two California Headwaters: American River and Russian River’, Proc. 17th Annual PACLIM Workshop, 110.Google Scholar
  28. National Research Council: 2001, Climate Change-An Analysis of some Key Questions, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 42 pp.Google Scholar
  29. Obled, C. and Rosse, B. B.: 1977, ‘Mathematical Models of a Melting Snowpack at an Index Plot’, J. Hydrology 32, 139–163.Google Scholar
  30. O'Brien, T. P., Sornette, D., and McPherron, R. L.: 2001, ‘Statistical Asynchronous Regression: Determining the Relationship between Two Quantities that are not Measured Simultaneously’, J. Geophys. Res. 106, 13247–13259.Google Scholar
  31. Risbey, J. S. and Entekhabi, D.: 1996, ‘Observed Sacramento Basin Streamflow Responses to Precipitation and Temperature Changes and its Relevance to Climate Impact Studies’, J. Hydrology 184, 209-223.Google Scholar
  32. Roos, M.: 1991, ‘A Trend of Decreasing Snowmelt Runoff in Northern California’, Proc. 59th Western Snow Conference, Juneau, AK, 29-36.Google Scholar
  33. Slack, J. R. and Landwehr, J. M.: 1992, ‘Hydro-Climatic Data Network (HCDN): A U.S. Geological Survey Streamflow Data Set of the United States for the Study of Climate Variations, 1874-1988’, USGS Open-File Report 92-129, 193 pp.Google Scholar
  34. Smith, J. L. and Reece, B. D.: 1995, ‘Watershed Characterization for Precipitation Runoff Modeling System, North Fork American River and East Fork Carson River Watersheds, California,’ USGS Hydrologic Investigations Atlas HA-734, 1 sheet.Google Scholar
  35. Stewart, I., Cayan, D. R., and Dettinger, M. D.: 2004, ‘Changes in Snowmelt Runoff Timing in Western North America under a “Business as Usual” Climate Change Scenario’, Clim. Change 62, 217–232.Google Scholar
  36. U.S. National Assessment Synthesis Team: 2000, ‘Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change: Overview’, Report of the National Assessment Synthesis Team, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Cambridge University Press, New York, 154 pp.Google Scholar
  37. Wahl, K. L.: 1992, ‘Evaluation of Trends in Runoff in the Western United States’, AWRA, Managing Water Resources during Global Change, 701-710.Google Scholar
  38. Washington, W. M., Weatherly, J. W., Meehl, G. A., Semtner, A. J., Bettge, T.W., Craig, A. P., Strand, W. G., Arblaster, J., Wayland, V. B., James, R., and Zhang, Y.: 2000, ‘Parallel Climate Model (PCM) Control and Transient Simulations’, Clim. Dyn. 16, 755–774.Google Scholar
  39. Wilby, R. L. and Dettinger, M. D.: 2000, ‘Streamflow Changes in the Sierra Nevada, California, Simulated using Statistically Downscaled General Circulation Model Output’, in McLaren, S. and Kniveton, D. (eds.), Linking Climate Change to Land Surface Change, Advances in Global Change Research 6, Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 99–121.Google Scholar
  40. Wilby, R. L., Wigley, T. M. L., Conway, D., Jones, P. D., Hewitson, B. C., Main, J., and Wilks, D. S.: 1998, ‘Statistical Downscaling of General Circulation Model Output: A Comparison of Methods’, Water Resour. Res. 34, 2995–3008.Google Scholar
  41. Willen, D. W., Shumway, C. A., and Reid, J. E.: 1971, ‘Simulation of Daily Snow Water Equivalent and Melt’, Proc. 1971 Western Snow Conference, 1–8.Google Scholar
  42. Wilson, R. C.: 1997, ‘Daily Rainfall along the U.S. Pacific Coast Appears to Conform to a Square-Root Normal Probability Distribution’, Proc. 13th Annual Pacific Climate Workshop, 19–32.Google Scholar
  43. Zhu, C., Pierce, D. W., Barnett, T. P., Wood, A. W., and Lettenmaier, D. P.: 2004, ‘Evaluation of Hydrologically Relevant PCM Climate Variables and Large-Scale Variability over the Continental U.S.’, Clim. Change 62, 45–74.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael D. Dettinger
    • 1
  • Daniel R. Cayan
    • 2
    • 1
  • Mary K. Meyer
    • 2
  • Anne E. Jeton
    • 3
  1. 1.Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dept. 0224U.S. Geological SurveyLacJollaU.S.A.
  2. 2.Climate Research Division, Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoU.S.A.
  3. 3.U.S. Geological SurveyCarson CityU.S.A

Personalised recommendations