Projected climate change impacts on the hydrology and temperature of Pacific Northwest rivers

Huan Wu
John S. Kimball, University of Montana - Missoula
Marketa M. Elsner
Nate Mantua
Robert F. Adler
Jack A. Stanford, University of Montana - Missoula


A dominant river-tracing-based streamflow and temperature (DRTT) model was developed by coupling stream thermal dynamics with a source-sink routing model. The DRTT model was applied using 1/16 degree (∼6 km) resolution gridded daily surface meteorology inputs over a ∼988,000 km2 Pacific Northwest (PNW) domain to produce regional daily streamflow and temperature simulations from 1996 to 2005. The DRTT results showed favorable performance for simulation of daily stream temperature (mean R2= 0.72 and root-mean-square error = 2.35°C) and discharge (mean R2 = 0.52 and annual relative error = 14%) against observations from 12 PNW streams. The DRTT was then applied with a macroscale hydrologic model to predict streamflow and temperature changes under historical (1980s) and future (2020s, 2040s, and 2080s) climate change scenarios (IPCC AR4) as they may affect current and future patterns of freshwater salmon habitat and associated productivity of PNW streams. The model projected a 3.5% decrease in mean annual streamflow for the 2020s and 0.6% and 5.5% increases for the 2040s and 2080s, respectively, with projected increase in mean annual stream temperatures from 0.55°C (2020s) to 1.68°C (2080s). However, summer streamflow decreased from 19.3% (2020s) to 30.3% (2080s), while mean summer stream temperatures warmed from 0.92°C to 2.10°C. The simulations indicate that projected climate change will have greater impacts on snow dominant streams, with lower summer streamflows and warmer summer stream temperature changes relative to transient and rain dominant regimes. Lower summer flows combined with warmer stream temperatures suggest a future with widespread increased summertime thermal stress for coldwater fish in the PNW region.