Paper No. JAWRA-10-0215-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until six months from print publication.
Snowmelt Runoff and Water Yield Along Elevation and Temperature Gradients in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada1
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012
© 2012 American Water Resources Association
JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association
Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 667–678, August 2012
How to Cite
Hunsaker, C. T., Whitaker, T. W. and Bales, R. C. (2012), Snowmelt Runoff and Water Yield Along Elevation and Temperature Gradients in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 48: 667–678. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2012.00641.x
- Issue published online: 1 AUG 2012
- Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012
- Received December 16, 2010; accepted January 4, 2012.
- snow hydrology;
- watershed management;
- runoff ratio;
- Sierra Nevada;
- mountain hydrology;
Hunsaker, Carolyn T., Thomas W. Whitaker, and Roger C. Bales, 2012. Snowmelt Runoff and Water Yield Along Elevation and Temperature Gradients in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 48(4): 667-678. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2012.00641.x
Abstract: Differences in hydrologic response across the rain-snow transition in the southern Sierra Nevada were studied in eight headwater catchments – the Kings River Experimental Watersheds – using continuous precipitation, snowpack, and streamflow measurements. The annual runoff ratio (discharge divided by precipitation) increased about 0.1 per 300 m of mean catchment elevation over the range 1,800-2,400 m. Higher-elevation catchments have lower vegetation density, shallow soils with rapid permeability, and a shorter growing season when compared with those at lower elevations. Average annual temperatures ranged from 6.8°C at 2,400 m to 8.6 at 1,950 m elevation, with annual precipitation being 75-95% snow at the highest elevations vs. 20-50% at the lowest. Peak discharge lagged peak snow accumulation on the order of 60 days at the higher elevations and 20 to 30 days at the lower elevations. Snowmelt dominated the daily streamflow cycle over a period of about 30 days in higher elevation catchments, followed by a 15-day transition to evapotranspiration dominating the daily streamflow cycle. Discharge from lower elevation catchments was rainfall dominated in spring, with the transition to evapotranspiration dominance being less distinct. Climate warming that results in a longer growing season and a shift from snow to rain would result in earlier runoff and a lower runoff ratio.