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Accelerated climate and land use land cover (LULC) changes are anticipated to significantly impact water resources in the Colorado River Basin (CRB), a major freshwater source in the southwestern U.S. The need for actionable information from hydrologic research is growing

Accelerated climate and land use land cover (LULC) changes are anticipated to significantly impact water resources in the Colorado River Basin (CRB), a major freshwater source in the southwestern U.S. The need for actionable information from hydrologic research is growing rapidly, given considerable uncertainties. For instance, it is unclear if the predicted high degree of interannual precipitation variability across the basin could overwhelm the impacts of future warming and how this might vary in space. Climate change will also intensify forest disturbances (wildfire, mortality, thinning), which can significantly impact water resources. These impacts are not constrained, given findings of mixed post-disturbance hydrologic responses. Process-based models like the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) platform can quantitatively predict hydrologic behaviors of these complex systems. However, barriers limit their effectiveness to inform decision making: (1) simulations generate enormous data volumes, (2) outputs are inaccessible to managers, and (3) modeling is not transparent. I designed a stakeholder engagement and VIC modeling process to overcome these challenges, and developed a web-based tool, VIC-Explorer, to “open the black box” of my efforts. Meteorological data was from downscaled historical (1950-2005) and future projections (2006-2099) of eight climate models that best represent climatology under low- and high- emissions. I used two modeling methods: (1) a “top-down” approach to assess an “envelope of hydrologic possibility” under the 16 climate futures; and (2) a “bottom-up” evaluation of hydrology in two climates from the ensemble representing “Hot/Dry” and “Warm/Wet” futures. For the latter assessment, I modified land cover using projections of a LULC model and applied more drastic forest disturbances. I consulted water managers to expand the legitimacy of the research. Results showed Far-Future (2066-2095) basin-wide mean annual streamflow decline (relative to 1976-2005; ensemble median trends of -5% to -25%), attributed to warming that diminished spring snowfall and melt and year-round increased soil evaporation from the Upper Basin, and overall precipitation declines in the Lower Basin. Forest disturbances partially offset warming effects (basin-wide mean annual streamflow up to 12% larger than without disturbance). Results are available via VIC-Explorer, which includes documentation and guided analyses to ensure findings are interpreted appropriately for decision-making.
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    Title
    • Colorado River Basin Hydrology under Future Climate and Land Cover Changes
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    Date Created
    2022
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    • Partial requirement for: Ph.D., Arizona State University, 2022
    • Field of study: Geological Sciences

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