Modeling the Hydrological Response to Climate Change in an Arid Inland River Basin

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Chunmiao Zheng1,2, Aijing Zhang1, Yong Tian1, Yi Zheng1 and Jie Liu1, (1)Peking University, Beijing, China, (2)University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, United States
Located deep in the hinterlands of Eurasia, the Heihe River Basin (HRB) is an arid inland river basin in northwest China where the hydrologic regime responds sensitively to climate change. From the headwater region to terminal lakes, the HRB can be roughly divided into three sections, i.e., the upstream Qilian Mountains, the midstream oases and the downstream Gobi Desert. Runoff generated in the upstream mountainous terrains, dominated by climate variations, is the critical water resource for the whole river basin. With increasing intensification of climate change, there is an urgent need to understand future changes of water resources and water-related disasters to support regional water management. This study investigates the potential impact of climate change on hydrologic processes in the upper HRB for the future period of 2021~2150. Downscaled temperature and precipitation projections from six General Circulation Models under two emission scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) are adopted to drive a commonly used flow model, Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), for the upper HRB. The impacts of climate change on the total runoff and its components are quantified based on the future climate scenario analysis and the results of SWAT simulation. To understand how the climate change affects the availability and distribution of water resources in the middle and lower HRB where irrigated agriculture and ecosystem conservation compete for water resources, runoffs from the upper HRB are used as the boundary conditions for an integrated groundwater-surface water model based on the USGS GSFLOW for the middle and lower HRB. The integrated model assimilated multiple types of data including groundwater levels at monitoring wells, streamflow at gaging stations, and evapotranspiration (ET) derived from remote sensing data. The calibrated model was able to adequately reproduce the observed hydrological variables. The integrated model was then used to assess the potential response of the water cycle to both climate change and human activities, as well as the effectiveness of the current restoration practice. This study enhances our understanding of the complex interactions between future climate and watershed hydrology and provides the scientific basis for sustainable water resources management in arid inland river basins.