Climate warming will have substantial impacts on hydrological fluxes in the California Sierra. A commonly used approach for assessing these impacts, particularly in mountain watersheds, is to substitute space for time. This conceptual model assumes that with warming, the hydrologic behaviour of higher elevation snow dominated watersheds (SDWs) will converge to the hydrologic behaviour of lower elevation transient snow watersheds (TSWs). To investigate the efficacy of this conceptual model, a process‐based model (RHESSys) was applied to a TSW and a SDW with a mean annual temperature 2 °C lower than the TSW in the Sierra National forest, California. This study investigated the effect of climate warming (2 and 4 °C) on the model estimates of snow water equivalent (SWE), streamflow, evapotranspiration (ET), and moisture deficit in the two watersheds. Modelling results show that SDW under 2 °C warming scenarios generates monthly SWE similar in magnitude and timing as TSW under historic conditions. However, SDW under 2 °C warming scenarios generates higher annual and summer streamflow due to shallower groundwater storage and experiences less water limitation due to lower ET, compared with TSW under historical climate conditions. In both watersheds, leaf area index and wetness index are primary factors controlling spatial patterns of seasonal ET under both historical climate conditions and warming scenarios. Climate warming increases the spatial variability in monthly ET, especially in the summer period. These modelling results suggest that vegetation structure and subsurface properties may be as important as climate in explaining hydrologic response to climate warming in small Sierra Nevada watersheds.
Son, K.; Tague, C. (2018): Hydrologic responses to climate warming for a snow‐dominated watershed and a transient snow watershed in the California Sierra. Ecohydrology, 12:e2053. DOI: 10.1002/eco.2053
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.