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

Abstract

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.

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Dettinger, M.D., Cayan, D.R., Meyer, M.K. et al. Simulated Hydrologic Responses to Climate Variations and Change in the Merced, Carson, and American River Basins, Sierra Nevada, California, 1900–2099. Climatic Change 62, 283–317 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:CLIM.0000013683.13346.4f

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:CLIM.0000013683.13346.4f

Keywords

  • Streamflow
  • Simulated Climate
  • Radiative Forcings
  • Hydrologic Response
  • Daily Streamflow