Effects of Climate Change on Flood Frequency in the Pacific Northwest

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Diana R Gergel1, Matt R Stumbaugh1, SE-Yeun Lee1, Bart Nijssen1 and Dennis P Lettenmaier1,2, (1)University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States, (2)University of California, Los Angeles (effective Nov., 2014), Dept. of Geography, Los Angeles, CA, United States
A key concern about climate change as related to water resources is the potential for changes in hydrologic extremes, including flooding. We explore changes in flood frequency in the Pacific Northwest using downscaled output from ten Global Climate Models (GCMs) from the Coupled Model Inter-Comparison Project 5 (CMIP5) for historical forcings (1950-2005) and future Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5 (2006-2100). We use archived output from the Integrated Scenarios Project (ISP) (http://maca.northwestknowledge.net/), which uses the Multivariate Adaptive Constructed Analogs (MACA) method for statistical downscaling. The MACA-downscaled GCM output was then used to force the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrology model with a 1/16th degree spatial resolution and a daily time step. For each of the 238 HUC-08 areas within the Pacific Northwest (USGS Hydrologic Region 15), we computed, from the ISP archive, the series of maximum daily runoff values (surrogate for the annual maximum flood), and then the mean annual flood. Finally, we computed the ratios of the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 mean annual floods to their corresponding values for the historical period. We evaluate spatial patterns in the results. For snow-dominated watersheds, the changes are dominated by reductions in flood frequency in basins that currently have spring-dominant floods, and increases in snow affected basins with fall-dominant floods. In low elevation basins west of the Cascades, changes in flooding are more directly related to changes in precipitation extremes. We further explore the nature of these effects by evaluating the mean Julian day of the annual maximum flood for each HUC-08 and how this changes between the historical and RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios.