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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-54
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-54
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 23 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 23 Mar 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Future streamflow regime changes in the United States: assessment using functional classification

Manuela I. Brunner1, Lieke A. Melsen2, Andrew J. Newman1, Andrew W. Wood3,1, and Martyn P. Clark4 Manuela I. Brunner et al.
  • 1National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder CO, United States
  • 2Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 3Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder CO, United States
  • 4College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan, Canmore, Canada

Abstract. Streamflow regimes are changing and expected to further change under the influence of climate change with potential impacts on flow variability and the seasonality of extremes. However, not all types of regimes are going to change in the same way. Climate change impact assessments can therefore benefit from identifying classes of catchments with similar streamflow regimes. Traditional catchment classification approaches have focused on specific meteorological and/or streamflow indices usually neglecting the temporal information stored in the data. The aim of this study is two-fold: (1) develop a catchment classification scheme that allows for the incorporation of such temporal information and (2) use the scheme to evaluate changes in future flow regimes.

We use the developed classification scheme, which relies on a functional data representation, to cluster a large set of catchments in the conterminous United States (CONUS) according to their mean annual hydrographs. We identify five regime classes that summarize the behavior of catchments in the CONUS: (1) Intermittent regime, (2) weak winter regime, (3) strong winter regime, (4) New Year's regime, and (5) melt regime. Our results show that these spatially contiguous classes are not only similar in terms of their regimes, but also their flood and drought behavior, as well as their physiographical and meteorological characteristics. We therefore deem the functional regime classes valuable for a number of applications going beyond change assessments including model validation studies or the prediction of streamflow characteristics in ungauged basins.

To assess future regime changes, we use simulated discharge time series obtained from the Variable Infiltration Capacity hydrologic model driven with meteorological time series generated by five general circulation models. A comparison of the future regime classes derived from these simulations with current classes shows that robust regime changes are expected only for currently melt-influenced regions in the Rocky Mountains. These changes in mountainous, upstream regions may require the adaptation of water management strategies to ensure sufficient water supply in dependent downstream regions.

Manuela I. Brunner et al.

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Manuela I. Brunner et al.

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Short summary
Streamflow seasonality is changing and expected to further change under the influence of climate change. We here assess how annual streamflow hydrographs will change in future by using a newly developed classification scheme. Our comparison of future with current annual hydrograph classes shows that robust changes are expected only for currently melt-influenced regions in the Rocky Mountains. These upstream changes may require the adaptation of management strategies in downstream regions.
Streamflow seasonality is changing and expected to further change under the influence of climate...
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