Spatial and Temporal Variations in Hydroclimatic Variables Affecting Streamflow across Western Canada

Date

2014-04-25

Authors

Linton, Hayley Christina

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Abstract

A large portion of the freshwater in western Canada originates as snowpack from the northern Rocky Mountains. The temperature and precipitation in these areas controls the amount of snow accumulated and stored throughout the winter, and the amount and timing of melt that occurs during the spring freshet. Therefore, a better understanding of past and future changes to the extent of snowpack and timing of melt can modify the timing of peak river flow on a continental scale. Trends in temperature, precipitation, snow accumulation, and snowmelt are examined using the Mann-Kendall non-parametric test on a high resolution gridded climate dataset over western Canada for the period 1950-2010. In addition, projected changes in temperature, precipitation, snow water equivalent, and snowmelt are examined through comparison of the current (1971-2000) and future (2041-2070) time periods incorporating several regional climate models. The temporal and spatial analyses of these key hydroclimatic variables indicate that changes vary greatly over space and time. Results reveal that while both maximum and minimum temperature have increased in the past 60 years, minimum temperature has increased more than maximum temperature and is likely to continue doing so in the future. This trend is particularly evident during the colder months of the year, and at higher elevations, contributing to earlier spring melt. Between 1950 and 2010, precipitation has decreased throughout the colder months of the year and increased in the warmer months, particularly in the northern half of the study area. Future projections show increased precipitation, specifically in the north. Throughout the historical period snow accumulation has experienced decreases across the study area and through all months of the year, except for increases at high elevations. In the coldest months of the year snow accumulation is projected to increase in high elevation and northern areas while decreasing across the rest of study area in the future. Snowmelt results indicate slight increases in mid-winter melt events and an earlier onset of the spring freshet; this change is expected to continue into the future period. This study provides a summary of detected trends and potential future changes in key hydroclimatic variables across western Canada with regard to the effects these changes can have on the spring freshet and streamflow, and thus water resources, throughout the study area.

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Keywords

hydrology, climatology, hydroclimatology, trend analysis, spatial analysis, western Canada, GIS, temperature, precipitation, snow, snowmelt

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