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TitleReconstructing river discharge trends from climate variables and prediction of future trends
AuthorChen, ZORCID logo; Grasby, S EORCID logo
SourceJournal of Hydrology vol. 511, 2014 p. 267-278,
Alt SeriesEarth Sciences Sector, Contribution Series 20140015
PublisherElsevier BV
Mediapaper; digital; on-line
File formatpdf
NTS73L; 73M; 74D; 74E; 83I; 83J; 83K; 83N; 83O; 83P; 84A; 84B; 84C; 84F; 84G; 84H
AreaCanadian Plains; Canadian Rocky Mountains; Athabaska River; Fort McMurray; Peace River
Lat/Long WENS-118.0000 -110.0000 58.0000 54.0000
Subjectshydrogeology; rivers; discharge rates; water circulation patterns; water levels
Illustrationslocation maps; graphs; tables
ProgramGroundwater Geoscience, Aquifer Assessment & support to mapping
AbstractA number of studies suggest a significant decline of river discharge in the Canadian Plains that drain the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and elsewhere in Canada. Analyses of these trends suggested that apparent decline rates may represent long-term discharge variation as a result of anthropogenic induced change in seasonal flow and/or may also represent true long-term declines in annual flow. Potential for significant declines in river discharge raises concern over future water supply for this region. However, extracting accurate trends in river discharge is challenging for basins with relatively short periods of record as quasi-periodic decadal and multi-decadal oscillations are found to be important components of long-term natural variability. In order to reconstruct historic river flows, a correlation model between river flow and climate variables (that normally have longer periods of record) was developed. This empirical relationship was used as a proxy to reconstruct natural modes of river discharge, allowing a means to extend short term discharge records further back in time. The Athabasca River was used as an example to demonstrate the application of the proposed methods. The resulting long-term Athabasca River flow trends show variation is strongly related to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Previous studies suggesting decline flows on this river have been biased by examining short-term records of flow, that by chance corresponded with the down limb of a long term cycle.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
There is increasing demand to consider future potential variability in river flow as part of large industrial projects. However, prediction of flow rate is difficult because many natural factors may impact the forecast model. In particular, long-term climate cycles have not been accounted for in previous work. This article proposes a new method to reconstruct historical river flow using long-term climate records to gain a better understanding the natural modes of historic river (there are typically records in climate data than for river flow). The Athabasca River was used as a case study to test this approach. Results show that long-term Athabasca River flow trends are strongly related to natural multi-decadal cycles, and that previous studies suggesting overall declining flows could be biased by examining short-term flow records.

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