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Modeling the Hydrology of Climate Change in California’s Sierra Nevada for Subwatershed Scale Adaptation1

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    Paper No. JAWRA-08-0199-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until six months from print publication.

(E-Mail/Young: cyoung@sei-us.org)

Abstract

Young, Charles A., Marisa I. Escobar-Arias, Martha Fernandes, Brian Joyce, Michael Kiparsky, Jeffrey F. Mount, Vishal K. Mehta, David Purkey, Joshua H. Viers, and David Yates, 2009. Modeling the Hydrology of Climate Change in California’s Sierra Nevada for Subwatershed Scale Adaptation. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 45(6):1409-1423.

Abstract:  The rainfall-runoff model presented in this study represents the hydrology of 15 major watersheds of the Sierra Nevada in California as the backbone of a planning tool for water resources analysis including climate change studies. Our model implementation documents potential changes in hydrologic metrics such as snowpack and the initiation of snowmelt at a finer resolution than previous studies, in accordance with the needs of watershed-level planning decisions. Calibration was performed with a sequence of steps focusing sequentially on parameters of land cover, snow accumulation and melt, and water capacity and hydraulic conductivity of soil horizons. An assessment of the calibrated streamflows using goodness of fit statistics indicate that the model robustly represents major features of weekly average flows of the historical 1980-2001 time series. Runs of the model for climate warming scenarios with fixed increases of 2°C, 4°C, and 6°C for the spatial domain were used to analyze changes in snow accumulation and runoff timing. The results indicated a reduction in snowmelt volume that was largest in the 1,750-2,750 m elevation range. In addition, the runoff center of mass shifted to earlier dates and this shift was non-uniformly distributed throughout the Sierra Nevada. Because the hydrologic model presented here is nested within a water resources planning system, future research can focus on the management and adaptation of the water resources system in the context of climate change.

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