Articles | Volume 18, issue 2
Research article
27 Feb 2014
Research article |  | 27 Feb 2014

Modeling the effect of glacier recession on streamflow response using a coupled glacio-hydrological model

B. S. Naz, C. D. Frans, G. K. C. Clarke, P. Burns, and D. P. Lettenmaier

Abstract. We describe an integrated spatially distributed hydrologic and glacier dynamic model, and use it to investigate the effect of glacier recession on streamflow variations for the upper Bow River basin, a tributary of the South Saskatchewan River, Alberta, Canada. Several recent studies have suggested that observed decreases in summer flows in the South Saskatchewan River are partly due to the retreat of glaciers in the river's headwaters. Modeling the effect of glacier changes on streamflow response in river basins such as the South Saskatchewan is complicated due to the inability of most existing physically based distributed hydrologic models to represent glacier dynamics. We compare predicted variations in glacier extent, snow water equivalent (SWE), and streamflow discharge with satellite estimates of glacier area and terminus position, observed glacier mass balance, observed streamflow and snow water-equivalent measurements, respectively over the period of 1980–2007. Observations of multiple hydroclimatic variables compare well with those simulated with the coupled hydrology-glacier model. Our results suggest that, on average, the glacier melt contribution to the Bow River flow upstream of Lake Louise is approximately 22% in summer. For warm and dry years, however, the glacier melt contribution can be as large as 47% in August, whereas for cold years, it can be as small as 15% and the timing of the glacier melt signature can be delayed by a month. The development of this modeling approach sets the stage for future predictions of the influence of warming climate on streamflow in partially glacierized watersheds.