Mar 6, 2018

Observed Changes in Climate and Streamflow in the Upper Rio Grande Basin

Shaleene B. Chavarria, David S. Gutzler
Journal of the American Water Resources Association
  • Uses observed streamflow and climate data to test the hypothesis that climate change is already affecting Rio Grande streamflow volume derived from snowmelt runoff in ways consistent with model‐based projections of 21st‐Century streamflow
  • Assesses annual and monthly changes in streamflow volume and surface climate variables on the Upper Rio Grande, near its headwaters in southern Colorado, for water years 1958–2015
  • Results indicate winter and spring season temperatures in the basin have increased significantly, April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) has decreased by approximately 25%, and streamflow has declined slightly in the April–July snowmelt runoff season
  • Small increases in precipitation have reduced the impact of declining snowpack on trends in streamflow
  • Changes in the snowpack–runoff relationship are noticeable in hydrographs of mean monthly streamflow, but are most apparent in the changing ratios of precipitation (rain + snow, and SWE) to streamflow and in the declining fraction of runoff attributable to snowpack or winter precipitation
  • The observed changes provide observational confirmation for model projections of decreasing runoff attributable to snowpack, and demonstrate the decreasing utility of snowpack for predicting subsequent streamflow on a seasonal basis in the Upper Rio Grande Basin