In a mediterranean climate, dry season runoff sustains water supply and supports aquatic habitat and other ecosystems. Precipitation and temperature directly, by regulating recharge and evapotranspiration (ET), and indirectly, by regulating amount and timing of snowmelt, control the dry season runoff in the Sierra Nevada. Here, we explored relative impacts of precipitation and temperature variability on dry season runoff using path analysis. Specific objectives include: (i) to quantify the direct and indirect impacts of precipitation and temperature on 7-day average minimum flow (Qmin) and (ii) to explore the role of preceding year Qmin on fall season runoff (QF). We used daily runoff, air temperature, precipitation, and snow water equivalent (SWE) over 2004-2015 for the ten catchments in the Kings River Experimental Watersheds. For path analysis model of Qmin, we defined annual precipitation and temperature as exogenous variables and peak SWE, day of snow disappearance, and Qmin as endogenous variables. For QF, we defined current year fall precipitation and preceding year Qmin as exogenous variables and current year QF as an endogenous variable. Path analysis results for Qmin show precipitation as a dominant driver when compared to temperature, peak SWE, and day of snow disappearance. However, in half of the catchments that are mostly located at higher elevations the impact of temperature on Qmin was either comparable or exceeded that of precipitation. This relatively high sensitivity of Qmin to air temperature in high elevation catchments is consistent with the earlier findings of increased ET in proportion to warming. The direct effects of peak SWE and day of snow disappearance on Qmin were limited, and indirect effects of temperature and precipitation via peak SWE and day of snow disappearance were not significant. The preceding year Qmin and fall precipitation showed comparable impacts on QF, indicating that the storage in the preceding year modulates current year QF.
Safeeq, M.; Hunsaker, C.T.; Bales, R.C. (2016): Sensitivities of dry season runoff to precipitation and temperature in southern Sierra Nevada streams. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2016. Abstract H44B-03..