Sensitivity of intermittent streams to climate variations in the western United States

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 10:35 AM
Ken Eng, USGS Headquarters, National Research Program, Reston, VA, United States, David Wolock, USGS, Lawrence, KS, United States and Michael D Dettinger, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States
There is a great deal of interest in streamflow changes caused by climate change because of the potential negative effects on aquatic biota and water supplies. Most previous studies have focused on perennial streams, and only a few studies have examined the effect of climate variability on intermittent streams. Our objective in this study was to evaluate the sensitivity of intermittent streams to historical variability in climate in the semi-arid regions of the western United States. This study was carried out at 45 intermittent streams that had a minimum of 45 years of daily-streamgage record by evaluating: (1) correlations among time series of flow metrics (number of zero-flow events, the average of the central 50% and largest 10% of flows) with climate, and (2) decadal changes in the seasonality and long-term trends of these flow metrics. Results showed strong associations between the low-flow metrics and historical changes in climate. The decadal analysis, in contrast, suggested no significant seasonal shifts or decade-to-decade trends in the low-flow metrics. The lack of trends or changes in seasonality is likely due to unchanged long-term patterns in precipitation over the time period examined.