Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2021-186
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2021-186

  18 May 2021

18 May 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Assessing hydrological sensitivity of grassland basins in the Canadian Prairies to climate using a basin classification–based virtual modelling approach

Christopher Spence1, Zhihua He2, Kevin R. Shook2, Balew A. Mekonnen3, John W. Pomeroy2, Colin J. Whitfield4, and Jared D. Wolfe5 Christopher Spence et al.
  • 1Environment and Climate Change Canada, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • 2Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • 3Golder Associates, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  • 4School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • 5Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Abstract. Significant challenges from changes in climate and land-use face sustainable water use in the Canadian Prairies ecozone. The region has experienced significant warming since the mid 20th Century, and continued warming of an additional 2 °C by 2050 is expected. This paper aims to enhance understanding of climate controls on Prairie basin hydrology through numerical model experiments. It approaches this by developing a basin classification–based virtual modeling framework for a portion of the Prairie region, and applying the modelling framework to investigate the hydrological sensitivity of one Prairie basin class (High Elevation Grasslands) to changes in climate. High Elevation Grasslands dominate much of central and southern Alberta and parts of southwestern Saskatchewan with outliers in eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba. The experiments revealed that High Elevation Grasslands snowpacks are highly sensitive to changes in climate, but that this varies geographically. Spring maximum snow water equivalent in grasslands decreases 8% per degree °C of warming. Climate scenario simulations indicated a 2 °C increase in temperature requires at least an increase of 20% in mean annual precipitation for there to be enough additional snowfall to compensate for enhanced melt losses. The sensitivity in runoff is less linear and varies substantially across the study domain; simulations using 6 °C of warming and a 30% increase in mean annual precipitation yields simulated decreases in annual runoff of 40% in climates of the western Prairie but 55% increases in climates of eastern portions. These results can be used to identify those areas of the region that are most sensitive to climate change, and highlight focus areas for monitoring and adaptation. The results also demonstrate how a basin classification–based virtual modeling framework can be applied to evaluate regional scale impacts of climate change with relatively high spatial resolution, in a robust, effective and efficient manner.

Christopher Spence et al.

Status: open (until 24 Jul 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-186', Anonymous Referee #1, 21 Jun 2021 reply

Christopher Spence et al.

Christopher Spence et al.

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Short summary
We determined how snow and flow in small creeks change with temperature and precipitation in the Canadian Prairie, a region where water resources are often under stress. We tried something new. Every creek basin in the region was placed into one of seven groups based on their landscape traits. We selected one of these groups, and used its traits to build a model of snow and streamflow. It worked well, and by the 2040s there may be 20–40% less snow and 30% less streamflow than the 1980s.