EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON HYDROLOGY AND WATER RESOURCES IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN1

Authors

  • Alan F. Hamlet,

  • Dennis P. Lettenmaier

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      Respectively, Research Scientist and Professor of Civil Engineering, Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Oceans, Climate Impacts Group, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Box 352700, Seattle, Washington 98195 (E-Mail/Hamlet: hamleaf@u.washington.edu).


  • 1

    Paper No. 99093 of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.Discussions are open until August 1, 2000.

Abstract

ABSTRACT: As part of the National Assessment of Climate Change, the implications of future climate predictions derived from four global climate models (GCMs) were used to evaluate possible future changes to Pacific Northwest climate, the surface water response of the Columbia River basin, and the ability of the Columbia River reservoir system to meet regional water resources objectives. Two representative GCM simulations from the Hadley Centre (HC) and Max Planck Institute (MPI) were selected from a group of GCM simulations made available via the National Assessment for climate change. From these simulations, quasi-stationary, decadal mean temperature and precipitation changes were used to perturb historical records of precipitation and temperature data to create inferred conditions for 2025, 2045, and 2095. These perturbed records, which represent future climate in the experiments, were used to drive a macro-scale hydrology model of the Columbia River at 1/8 degree resolution. The altered streamflows simulated for each scenario were, in turn, used to drive a reservoir model, from which the ability of the system to meet water resources objectives was determined relative to a simulated hydrologic base case (current climate). Although the two GCM simulations showed somewhat different seasonal patterns for temperature change, in general the simulations show reasonably consistent basin average increases in temperature of about 1.8–2.1°C for 2025, and about 2.3–2.9°C for 2045. The HC simulations predict an annual average temperature increase of about 4.5°C for 2095. Changes in basin averaged winter precipitation range from -1 percent to + 20 percent for the HC and MPI scenarios, and summer precipitation is also variously affected. These changes in climate result in significant increases in winter runoff volumes due to increased winter precipitation and warmer winter temperatures, with resulting reductions in snowpack. Average March 1 basin average snow water equivalents are 75 to 85 percent of the base case for 2025, and 55 to 65 percent of the base case by 2045. By 2045 the reduced snowpack and earlier snow melt, coupled with higher evapotranspiration in early summer, would lead to earlier spring peak flows and reduced runoff volumes from April-September ranging from about 75 percent to 90 percent of the base case. Annual runoff volumes range from 85 percent to 110 percent of the base case in the simulations for 2045. These changes in streamflow create increased competition for water during the spring, summer, and early fall between non-firm energy production, irrigation, instream flow, and recreation. Flood control effectiveness is moderately reduced for most of the scenarios examined, and desirable navigation conditions on the Snake are generally enhanced or unchanged. Current levels of winter-dominated firm energy production are only significantly impacted for the MPI 2045 simulations.

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