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Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom

Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom

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Published by earthandlife
As climate change warms the atmosphere, Earth's hydrology is shifting—with the potential to make floods and droughts more extreme. There is now a pressing need for decision-makers to better understand the ongoing changes in hydrologic extremes in order to make preparations for changing conditions. This report assesses changes in the frequency and severity of floods and droughts, abilities of communities to understand and forecast these changes, and strategies for better communicating the science to water resources practitioners.
As climate change warms the atmosphere, Earth's hydrology is shifting—with the potential to make floods and droughts more extreme. There is now a pressing need for decision-makers to better understand the ongoing changes in hydrologic extremes in order to make preparations for changing conditions. This report assesses changes in the frequency and severity of floods and droughts, abilities of communities to understand and forecast these changes, and strategies for better communicating the science to water resources practitioners.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: earthandlife on Sep 22, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/08/2013

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UNDERSTANDING HOW CLIMATE CHANGE WILL IMPACT HYDROLOGY 
—the movement,distribution, and quality of water—is one of the grand challenges facing the climate andwater science communities. The basic laws of physics demonstrate that as climatewarms, Earth’s atmosphere will hold more moisture. This threatens to increase theoccurrence of severe storms, potentially leading to more extreme oods and droughts.
testing
 
conventional
 
 wisdom
Global Change
and
Extreme Hydrology
 
2
AS CLIMATE CHANGE WARMS THE ATMOSPHERE,
 Earth’s hydrology is shifting—with the potential tomake oods and droughts more extreme. There isnow a pressing need for decision-makers to betterunderstand the ongoing changes in hydrologicextremes in order to make preparations for thepossibility of changing conditions. This reportassesses potential changes in the frequencyand severity of oods and droughts, abilities of communities to understand and forecast thesechanges, and strategies for better communicating  the science to water resources practitioners.Understanding how climate change will impacthydrology—the movement, distribution, and quality of water on earth is one of the grand challenges facing  the climate and water science communities. Thebasic laws of physics demonstrate that as climatewarms, Earth’s atmosphere will hold more moisture.This threatens to increase the occurrence of severestorms, potentially leading to more extreme oodsand droughts.These predicted changes in the atmospheric branchof the hydrologic cycle are well-supported in globalclimate models, and records show that precipitationhas increased over the 20th century. Now waterresource managers need more detailed informationabout if, where, and how hydrologic extremes willchange in order to build infrastructure to withstandfuture conditions.However, patterns of oods and droughts have provendifcult to pin down, in part because of the complexdynamics of Earth’s atmosphere, but also because their incidence is inuenced by more than climate-driven phenomena alone. Other human-causedchanges, such as deforestation, urban expansion, and the construction of water engineering projects—suchas impoundments, irrigation systems, and waterdiversions—also impact Earth’s hydrology and caninuence the occurrence of ood and drought. As aresult, a coherent picture of how hydrologic extremeswill shift as climate changes has yet to emerge.In order to better prepare for the possibility of changing conditions, this report reviews currentknowledge about how climate warming translates intohydrologic extremes and assesses the effectivenessof current efforts to translate scientic knowledgeinto water policy and management actions.
What happens to the atmosphere as climate warms? 
 According to a basic physical law, known as the Clausius-Clayperonrelation, air holds more water vapor at higher temperatures. Infact, the water holding capacity of Earth’s atmosphere increasesby about 7 percent per degree Celsius increase in temperature (or about 4 percent per degree Fahrenheit).
 
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less severe in other parts of the eastern and centralUnited States.This disconnect between climate model simulationsand observations is due in part to the complexityof interactions between the atmosphere and land-surface systems. Often, the global climate models that predict increased precipitation have too largea scale and too coarse a spatial resolution to tellscientists how hydrology will change at local andregional scales. Smaller-scale regional climatemodels are not yet sophisticated enough to addsignicant information, in part because smallerregions have greater variability from daily to multipleyear time-scales making it even more difcult todistinguish real changes from background noise.Moreover, these models don’t comprehensivelyaddress non-climate issues, such as the constructionof dams and changes in land cover that can alsoaffect water cycles. More information on all thesefactors, and how they interact, is needed to gaina better understanding of how climate change will translate to oods and droughts on a regional andlocal scale.
 What Scientists Know AboutChanging Hydrology 
Recent analyses of a broad spectrum of watercycle variables, including precipitation, snow cover,and droughts, show that climate change is alreadyaffecting hydrology—and some of these changes havebeen unexpected.Conventional wisdom, in the form of global climatemodels and the basic laws of physics, predicts that the hydrologic cycle will accelerate as climate warms.Changing patterns of precipitation could potentiallylead to more extreme oods and droughts.However, observations show few statisticallysignicant trends in major oods in the UnitedStates, although low and medium range ows inmany streams increased over the second half of  the 20th century as the country became generallywetter. Evidence of changes in U.S. droughtcharacteristics is mixed. Droughts have becomelonger, more frequent, and more severe in parts of  the eastern and western United States (see Table 1),but other evidence shows droughts have become
Table 1.
Century-scale changes in a broad array of water cycle variables contribute to the scienticevidence for detectable climate warming in the United States. Taken together, these variables indicatethat the hydrologic cycle is accelerating.
Source: The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s national assessment of climate impacts.Reprinted, with permission of Karl et al (2009). Copyright 2009, Cambridge University Press.
Observed Water-Related Changes During the Last Century
Observed ChangeDirectionof ChangeRegion Affected
One to four week earlier peak streamow due to earlier warming-driven snowmeltEarlierWest and NortheastProportion of precipitation falling as snowDecreasingWest and NortheastDuration and extent of snow coverDecreasingMost of the United StatesMountain snow water equivalentDecreasingWestAnnual precipitationIncreasingMost of the United StatesAnnual precipitationDecreasingSouthwestFrequency of heavy precipitation eventsIncreasingMost of the United StatesRunoff and streamowDecreasinColorado and Columbia RiverBasinsStreamowIncreasingMost of EastAmount of ice in mountain glaciersDecreasingU.S. western mountains, AlaskaWater temperature of lakes and streamsIncreasingMost of the United StatesIce cover on lakes and riversDecreasingGreat Lakes and NortheastPeriods of droughtIncreasingParts of West and EastSalinization of surface watersIncreasingFlorida, LouisianaWidespread thawing of permafrostIncreasingAlaska

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