Climate Change


                      This diagram shows global mean surface temperature anomalies over land and ocean from 1880 to 2006. The anomalies are in comparison to the 1901-2000 mean. From the late 1800s to the late 1930s, temperatures were below the long-term mean. Between the late 1930s and late 1970s temperatures ranged above and below the long-term mean. Since 1980 temperatures have been well above the long-term mean.

Figure 1



The worldwide trend in air temperatures in Figure 1, reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Climate Change 2007, AR4, is a catalyst for studies of the effects of climate change for water resources. Hydrologists and meteorologists have assumed that the climate was stable – that observations like stream flows or mean monthly temperatures in a watershed would, for ‘practical purposes’ like reservoir design, be drawn from the same statistical distribution. Most instrumental records are less than 100 year in length – the first stream gage in the United States was installed in 1889 on the Rio Grande in New Mexico . Without millennia long instrumental records it is not possible to conclude that the temperatures in Figure 1 show “climate change” rather than long term cyclical behavior.


The earth’s climate has been very different in geologic time, and has been significantly different even within the current interglacial warm period (the last 10,000 years). Volcanic eruptions affect worldwide temperatures. The assumption that the climate is stable is an argument about rate of change of climate – that even though climate change is certainly occurring, the rate of climate change is so slow that the stable climate assumption is justified.


Within the last ten years additional lines of inquiry have made the stable climate/slow climate change hypothesis doubtful.

Evidence for and possibilities for more rapid climate change comes from;


  • Observations of glacial melt in Greenland
  • Reduced polar ice, and permafrost melt
  • Correlations between past warm periods and atmospheric gases (especially CO2)
  • GCM projections of the effects of ‘greenhouse gases’ on future atmospheric temperatures

Water resource systems (reservoirs, aqueducts, irrigation systems) take decades to plan and build. If climate change affects existing facilities or makes new facilities necessary it is imprudent to ignore possible climate change effects.


The extent of ‘warming’ is not clear – models differ among themselves and projections depend on assumptions about future greenhouse gas concentrations. Projections vary geographically – it’s clear that polar regions experience the largest temperature increases. Effects for other meteorological time series; precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, solar radiation and wind are contradictory.


Analysis of climate change with HFAM modeling takes advantage of the detailed processes in the model. For example, temperature change can be specified by time of day and by seasons. Changes in cloudiness or solar radiation at the land surface, changes in wind or potential evapotranspiration, or changes in rain/snow during precipitation events can all be represented.


The hydrological effects of climate change are watershed specific – they depend on topography, elevations, soils and vegetation – and on the physical facilities in the watershed. Denman glacier shows the sensitivity of both snow and glacial growth or depletion to small increments in temperature and precipitation (Denman Glacier).


The following Figures, 2A, 2B and 2C show;


  • 2A Simulation of snow water content vs. observed at the HRS SNOTEL site in w. y. 2003. This site is at 8400 ft. elevation in the Upper Tuolumne watershed.
  • 2B Temperatures are increased + 4 deg. F. during precipitation events only. Dry weather temperatures are not changed
  • 2C Solar radiation (incoming) and wind velocities are each increased 10 percent. No changes are made in temperatures.


Figure 2A Current Climate




Figure 2B Warmer storms, + 4 deg. F, no change in dry weather temperatures



Figure 2C Increased Solar and Wind, + 10 percent


In these test runs snow pack accumulation is most sensitive to changes in storm temperatures. Snow pack accumulation is less sensitive to increased solar radiation and wind velocities. Results like these provide clues for interpretation of GCM projections. Different sensitivities may occur at other elevations or exposures. In evaluating climate change the devil is in the details.



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