Articles | Volume 17, issue 4
Research article
19 Apr 2013
Research article |  | 19 Apr 2013

Trends in timing and magnitude of flow in the Upper Indus Basin

M. Sharif, D. R. Archer, H. J. Fowler, and N. Forsythe

Abstract. River flow is a reflection of the input of moisture and its transformation in storage and transmission over the catchment. In the Upper Indus Basin (UIB), since high-altitude climate measurement and observations of glacier mass balance are weak or absent, analysis of trends in magnitude and timing in river flow provides a window on trends and fluctuations in climate and glacier outflow. Trend analysis is carried out using a Mann–Kendall nonparametric trend test on records extending from 1960 to 1998. High-level glacial catchments show a falling trend in runoff magnitude and a declining proportion of glacial contribution to the main stem of the Indus. Elsewhere annual flow has predominantly increased with several stations exhibiting statistically significant positive trends. Analysis of timing using spring onset date (SOT) and centre of volume date (CoV) indicated no clear trends – in direct contrast to what has been observed in western North America. There is, however, a consistent relationship between CoV and annual runoff volume. A consistently positive correlation was also found between SOT and CoV for all the stations, implying that initial snowpack conditions before the onset of runoff influence timing throughout the season. The results of the analysis presented here indicate that the magnitude and timing of streamflow hydrograph is influenced both by the initial snowpack and by seasonally varied trends in temperature. The study contributes to the understanding of the links between climate trends and variability and river runoff and glacier mass balance and runoff. The Upper Indus Basin is predominantly influenced by winter precipitation; similar trend analysis applied to summer-monsoon-dominated catchments of the central Himalaya is recommended.