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Water Resources Research

Use of color maps and wavelet coherence to discern seasonal and interannual climate influences on streamflow variability in northern catchments

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Abstract

[1] The higher midlatitudes of the northern hemisphere are particularly sensitive to change due to the important role the 0°C isotherm plays in the phase of precipitation and intermediate storage as snow. An international intercatchment comparison program called North-Watch seeks to improve our understanding of the sensitivity of northern catchments to change by examining their hydrological and biogeochemical variability and response. Here eight North-Watch catchments located in Sweden (Krycklan), Scotland (Girnock and Strontian), the United States (Sleepers River, Hubbard Brook, and HJ Andrews), and Canada (Dorset and Wolf Creek) with 10 continuous years of daily precipitation and runoff data were selected to assess daily to seasonal coupling of precipitation (P) and runoff (Q) using wavelet coherency, and to explore the patterns and scales of variability in streamflow using color maps. Wavelet coherency revealed that P and Q were decoupled in catchments with cold winters, yet were strongly coupled during and immediately following the spring snowmelt freshet. In all catchments, coupling at shorter time scales occurred during wet periods when the catchment was responsive and storage deficits were small. At longer time scales, coupling reflected coherence between seasonal cycles, being enhanced at sites with enhanced seasonality in P. Color maps were applied as an alternative method to identify patterns and scales of flow variability. Seasonal versus transient flow variability was identified along with the persistence of that variability on influencing the flow regime. While exploratory in nature, this intercomparison exercise highlights the importance of climate and the 0°C isotherm on the functioning of northern catchments.

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