Exploring Resilience of Canadian Rivers to Climate Change

Monday, 14 December 2015: 11:05
3016 (Moscone West)
Irena F Creed1, David A. Aldred1, Junting Guo1, Bernhard Lehner2 and Camille O. Dallaire2, (1)University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada, (2)McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Climate change is leading to a hydrological intensification (i.e., wet areas and periods are becoming wetter; dry areas and periods are becoming drier). Impacts of climate change across Canada will vary, and Canadians would benefit from insights as to where these impacts will occur and what these impacts will be in order to be in a position to effectively respond to these changes. Resilience is a term that is often used – and occasionally misused. We make the distinction between engineering resilience and ecological resilience. Engineering resilience assumes that a system may exist in only one stable equilibrium state, and measures the system’s resistance to change. In contrast, ecological resilience assumes that a system may exist in multiple equilibrium states and measures the magnitude of change a system can absorb before shifting from one equilibrium state to another. We adopt the concept of engineering resilience and explore the ability of riverscapes (rivers and their watersheds) to maintain or quickly return to an equilibrium state in response to changing climatic conditions. We use the Budyko curve to examine interactions of climate and water yield in riverscapes across Canada. The Budyko curve describes the relationship between a riverscape’s potential evapotranspiration (PET) and its actual evapotranspiration (AET) both normalized by precipitation (P) – i.e., the curve describes AET/P as a function of PET/P. We define elasticity is a measure of a system’s ability to maintain this relationship consistent with the Budyko curve as climate changes (ratio of range of PET/P to range of AET/P between different climate periods). We classify each riverscape as resilient (elasticity > 1) or non-resilient (elasticity ≤ 1) in response to climate change – exploring both past and future climate change scenarios. This Budyko approach enables us to characterize the resilience of riverscapes, predict their vulnerability to climate change, and propose management measures that will enable societies to adapt to climate change.