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Climate Research and Development in the Colorado River Basin

Summary of On-Going Climate Investigations
under the Colorado River Hydrology Work Group

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Climate Technical Work Group

On-Going Climate Investigations

On-Going Model Development

Research Projects by Agency

Publication Abstracts

On-going investigations as to how climate information can be incorporated into Reclamation's Colorado River operations and planning activities are guided by the research and development recommendations set forth by the Climate Technical Work Group in Section U.10 of the Group's Final Report.

The projects listed below are categorized according to those recommendations. To view all projects associated with a specific research group/agency, click on that link.

1. Improve availability and temporal resolution of regional climate projection datasets

  • Since publication of the Climate Technical Work Group’s recommendations, Reclamation’s Research and Development Office, in partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Santa Clara University (SCU), has developed an archive providing access to 112 bias-corrected and spatially downscaled climate projections. The original projections are from the World Climate Research Programme’s (WCRP’s) Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) multi-model dataset, which was referenced in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. The downscaled WCRP CMIP3 climate projections are being utilized in many of the Hydrology Work Group’s on-going investigations.


2. Improve ability to model runoff under climate change

  • Develop streamflow projections from downscaled WCRP CMIP3 climate projections described in Recommendation 1. Use the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center hydrologic model, which includes the snow accumulation and ablation model (SNOW-17) coupled with the Sacramento Moisture Accounting model (Sac-SMA), to derive stream flow projections in three to four Colorado River Basin headwater basins. Apply projected streamflows to operations models of selected headwater basins. This research will enrich knowledge on performance of hydrologic models and develop a unique framework to incorporate General Circulation model (GCM) projections in operations models. This project is in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • Explore how changes to the character of precipitation, i.e. snowfall vs. rainfall, may impact streamflow and water availability in the Colorado River Basin. This project is in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • Paper published in Journal of Hydrometeorology noting consistent increase in temperatures across the basin and resulting increased flows in late fall and winter and decreased flows spring and summer. This work was done in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • Compare multiple downscaling techniques (simple/statistical/dynamic) and assess their affect on climatic change and impact on decision making. This project is in collaboration with NOAA-PACE, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and King’s College, UK.


3. Investigate paradigm for Colorado River Basin precipitation response

  • Investigate the historical and projected precipitation variability in the Colorado River Basin. This will include a quantitative comparison between the observed precipitation variability and that simulated by GCMs for the historical period (1950-1999). This will be followed by an assessment of potential future changes in temporal precipitation variability. This project is in collaboration with NOAA-PACE and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

  • Explore how changes to the character of precipitation, i.e. snowfall vs. rainfall, may impact streamflow and water availability in the Colorado River Basin. This project is in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


4. Diagnose and improve existing climate models before adding additional features

  • This recommendation will be addressed by agencies such as NOAA or other academic groups that support GCMs. The Hydrology Work Group will stay up-to-date on GCM development and ensure any resulting changes in regionalized output are considered.


5. Investigate changes in modeled climate variability at multiple time scales

  • Develop a technique to improve seasonal to interannual forecasting. The tool Basin Specific Climate Prediction (BSCP) links sea surface temperature (SST) and sea level pressure (SLP) statistically to hydroclimate at the sub-basin scale. The tool has resulted in improved forecasting skill on the Little Colorado River. This project is in collaboration with the University of Arizona, Tucson.

  • Investigate the projection of streamflows at seasonal to interannual time scales that are consistent with El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-related features to provide skillful long lead ensemble streamflow forecast throughout the Colorado River Basin. This project is in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Boulder.

  • Develop a hydrologic simulation technique that captures the frequency attributes, i.e. reoccurrence of climate features, to describe streamflow variability at interannual and longer (interdecadal) timescales. The development of this technique will include an analysis of paleo streamflow data to provide insight into the temporal variability of the dominant frequencies identified in the observed data. The technique will be used to vary the relative strengths of the dominant frequencies to provide scenarios that represent alternative climate variability. This project is in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Boulder. (???? Same as #7)

  • Generate 112 transient runoff sequences derived from downscaled WCRP CMIP3 climate projections described in Recommendation 1. Runoff will be generated by utilizing the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrologic model. This project is in collaboration with AMEC Earth & Environmental. Reclamation’s Colorado River Modeling Work Group is working to apply these sequences to the long-term planning model, CRSS.

  • Investigate climatic changes in higher reaches of the Upper Colorado River Basin. This project is in collaboration with NOAA-PACE.


6. Improve understanding of surface water, groundwater and land cover interaction

  • Workshop to discuss groundwater and surface water sustainability issues including potential impacts from climate change. This project is in collaboration with the University of Arizona, Tucson.


7. Improve prediction of interdecadal oscillations

  • Develop a hydrologic simulation technique that captures the frequency attributes, i.e. reoccurrence of climate features, to describe streamflow variability at interannual and longer (interdecadal) timescales. The development of this technique will include an analysis of paleo streamflow data to provide insight into the temporal variability of the dominant frequencies identified in the observed data. The technique will be used to vary the relative strengths of the dominant frequencies to provide scenarios that represent alternative climate variability. This project is in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Boulder.


8. Investigate use of paleo-record to inform modeled streamflow variability

  • Develop tree-ring reconstruction of Lower Basin tributaries, beginning with the Little Colorado and Virgin Rivers, followed later by the Bill Williams, Muddy and Paria Rivers and Kanab Creek. This project is in collaboration with the University of Arizona, Tucson.

  • Paper submitted for review in Water Resources Research on using nonparametric techniques to reconstruct pre-observation (1490-1905) streamflows in the Colorado River Basin. This work was done in collaboration with AMEC Earth & Environmental.

  • Develop a hydrologic simulation technique that captures the frequency attributes, i.e., reoccurrence of climate features, to describe streamflow variability at interannual and longer (interdecadal) timescales. The development of this technique will include an analysis of paleo streamflow data to provide insight into the temporal variability of the dominant frequencies identified in the observed data. The technique will be used to vary the relative strengths of the dominant frequencies to provide scenarios that represent alternative climate variability. This project is in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Boulder. (??? same as #7)


9. Interact with Federal Climate Change Science Program and other climate change research initiatives

For more information relating to these studies, please contact CRBclimateresearch@usbr.gov.

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Updated: March 2010