Assessment of future runoff trends under multiple climate change scenarios in the Willamette River Basin, Oregon, USA

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We investigated trends in future seasonal runoff components in the Willamette River Basin (WRB) of Oregon for the twenty-first century. Statistically downscaled climate projections by Climate Impacts Group (CIG), eight different global climate model (GCM) simulations with two different greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios, (A1B and B1), were used as inputs for the US Geological Survey's Precipitation Runoff Modelling System. Ensemble mean results show negative trends in spring (March, April and May) and summer (June, July and August) runoff and positive trends in fall (September, October and November) and winter (December, January and February) runoff for 2000–2099. This is a result of temperature controls on the snowpack and declining summer and increasing winter precipitation. With temperature increases throughout the basin, snow water equivalent (SWE) is projected to decline consistently for all seasons. The decreases in the centre of timing and 7-day low flows and increases in the top 5% flow are caused by the earlier snowmelt in spring, decreases in summer runoff and increases in fall and winter runoff, respectively. Winter runoff changes are more pronounced in higher elevations than in low elevations in winter. Seasonal runoff trends are associated with the complex interactions of climatic and topographic variables. While SWE is the most important explanatory variable for spring and winter runoff trends, precipitation has the strongest influence on fall runoff. Spatial error regression models that incorporate spatial dependence better explain the variations of runoff trends than ordinary least-squares (OLS) multiple regression models. Our results show that long-term trends of water balance components in the WRB could be highly affected by anthropogenic climate change, but the direction and magnitude of such changes are highly dependent on the interactions between climate change and land surface hydrology. This suggests a need for spatially explicit adaptive water resource management within the WRB under climate change. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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