Articles | Volume 21, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 133–151, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 133–151, 2017
Research article
09 Jan 2017
Research article | 09 Jan 2017

Planning for climate change impacts on hydropower in the Far North

Jessica E. Cherry1, Corrie Knapp2, Sarah Trainor3, Andrea J. Ray4, Molly Tedesche5, and Susan Walker6 Jessica E. Cherry et al.
  • 1International Arctic Research Center and Institute of Northern Engineering, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
  • 2Department of Environment & Sustainability, Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado 81231, USA
  • 3Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
  • 4Earth System Research Laboratory-Physical Sciences Division, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA
  • 5International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
  • 6National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration-National Marine Fisheries Service, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA

Abstract. Unlike much of the contiguous United States, new hydropower development continues in the Far North, where climate models project precipitation will likely increase over the next century. Regional complexities in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, such as glacier recession and permafrost thaw, however, introduce uncertainties about the hydrologic responses to climate change that impact water resource management. This work reviews hydroclimate changes in the Far North and their impacts on hydropower; it provides a template for application of current techniques for prediction and estimating uncertainty, and it describes best practices for integrating science into management and decision-making. The growing number of studies on hydrologic impacts suggests that information resulting from climate change science has matured enough that it can and should be integrated into hydropower scoping, design, and management. Continuing to ignore the best available information in lieu of status quo planning is likely to prove costly to society in the long term.

Short summary
We know that climate is changing quickly in the Far North (the Arctic and sub-Arctic). Hydropower continues to grow in this region because water resources are perceived to be plentiful. However, with changes in glacier extent and permafrost, and more extreme events, will those resources prove reliable into the future? This study amasses the evidence that quantitative hydrology modeling and uncertainty assessment have matured to the point where they should be used in water resource planning.