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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 28 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 28 Jan 2020

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A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

The Spatial Extent of Hydrological and Landscape Changes across the Mountains and Prairies of the Saskatchewan and Mackenzie Basins

Paul H. Whitfield1,2,3, Philip D. A. Kraaijenbrink4, Kevin R. Shook1, and John W. Pomeroy1 Paul H. Whitfield et al.
  • 1Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, S7N 1K2, Canada
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC
  • 3Environment and Climate Change Canada, Vancouver, BC
  • 4Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Abstract. East of the Continental Divide, the cold interior of Western Canada has one of the world's most extreme and variable climates and is experiencing rapid environmental change. In the large Saskatchewan and Mackenzie River basins, the warming climate is changing the landscape, vegetation, cryosphere, and water. This study of a large number (395) of gauged basins in these large river basins provides the basis for a large-scale analysis of observed hydrological and landscape changes. In this region, the existing data sets are complex; observed streamflow records are available for differing series of years and streamflow measurements consist of both continuous and seasonal records. This diversity has been compensated for using novel analytical approaches: [1] a Streamflow Regime classification using dynamic time-warping that covers only the common period of the calendar year amongst all stations, and which is restricted to a time window of seasonal observations, [2] a classification of seasonal Streamflow Regime change using k-means clustering of the year divided into five-day bins. An assessment of landscape and hydrological storage change for each gauged basin was conducted using Landsat 5 TM imagery of Normalized Difference Vegetation, Water, and Snow Indices (NDVI, NDWI, and NDSI) for 1985 to 2010. Therefore, this analysis is for a different time period than the streamflow regime and trend patterns.

Twelve Streamflow Regime Types were identified using dynamic time-warping to overcome the problem of timing differences producing flow clusters due to latitude or elevation, rather than from the shape of the hydrograph resulting from differing processes. The success of this approach suggests that there is sufficient information in the time window to adequately resolve regions; Streamflow Regime Types exhibit a strong connection to location; the spatial distribution follows ecoregions and shows a strong distinction between mountains and plains. Clustering of seasonal trends resulted in six Trend Patterns. The Trend Patterns also have a strong and distinct spatial organization. The Trend Patterns include one with decreasing streamflow, four with different seasonal increasing streamflows, and one without any apparent trend structure. Trends in the mean, minimum, and maximum of three satellite indices were determined; the spatial patterns of NDWI and NDSI were similar to each other, but NDVI patterns were generally dissimilar. Streamflow Regime Types, the Trend Patterns, and satellite indices showed spatial coherence. The overlap between hydrological and landscape change was not perfectly coherent, suggesting that landscape changes may have a different domain from the existing hydrological regimes and from the observed trend patterns. Three particular areas of change are identified: [i] north of 60° where streamflow and greenness are increasing while wetness and snowcover are decreasing, [ii] in the western Boreal Plains where streamflows and greenness are decreasing but wetness and snowcover are not changing, and [iii] across the Prairies where there are three patterns of increasing streamflow and an increase in the wetness index, the largest changes occur in the eastern portion of the Canadian Prairies, with only few increases in greenness and snow indices. The results demonstrate the spatial extent of these changes.

Paul H. Whitfield et al.

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Paul H. Whitfield et al.

Paul H. Whitfield et al.


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Short summary
Using partial year streamflow records a regime and change classification were produced for ~ 400 watersheds in the Saskatchewan and Mackenzie River basins, and trends in water storage and vegetation were detected from satellite imagery. Three areas show consistent changes; north of 60° [increased streamflow and basin greenness], in the western Boreal Plains [decreased streamflow and basin greenness], and across the Prairies [three different patterns of increased streamflow and basin wetness].
Using partial year streamflow records a regime and change classification were produced for ~ 400...