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Keywords:

  • streamflow timing;
  • trend analysis;
  • watershed modelling;
  • climate change;
  • Catskill Mountains

Abstract

Snowfall is an important part of the yearly water balance for the Catskill Mountains in New York State, the location of water supply reservoirs for New York City. Recent studies have shown that the effects of climate change on the hydrology of the Catskills will most likely create (1) a decrease in the proportion of precipitation falling as snow, (2) a shift in the timing of snowmelt that will cause snowmelt-supplemented streamflow events to occur earlier in the fall and winter, and (3) a decrease in the magnitude of traditionally high April streamflow. The shift in timing of snowmelt-influenced streamflow events is measured by the winter-early spring centre of volume (WSCV), defined as the Julian Day on which half the total streamflow volume from January to May occurs. Studies of streamflow, precipitation, and temperature trends in the last 50 years have shown that the WSCV is already earlier by about 5–10 days. This study investigates the use of watershed-scale snowpack and snowmelt algorithms that are incorporated in two existing watershed water quality models, Generalized Watershed Loading Functions-Variable Source Area (GWLF-VSA) and Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), to capture the potential effects of climate change on the timing and magnitude of streamflow during the late fall, winter, and early spring for the Catskill Mountain region. The GWLF-VSA model reasonably simulated the recent shifts in the winter streamflow timing, with simulations over the previous 50-year period yielding shifts in WSCV of 2–15 days. The SWAT model yielded similar results as the GWLF-VSA simulations. Scenarios of potential climate change 100 years in the future showed a similar shift in direction of timing winter streamflow, but at a larger magnitude than observed to date with WSCV occurring 15–20 days earlier. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.