02 Nov 2023
 | 02 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Modelling the effects of climate and landcover change on the hydrologic regime of a snowmelt-dominated montane catchment

Russell S. Smith, Caren C. Dymond, David L. Spittlehouse, Rita D. Winkler, and Georg Jost

Abstract. Climate change poses risks to society through the potential to alter peak flows, low flows, and annual runoff yield. Wildfires are projected to increase due to climate change; however, little is known about their combined effects on hydrology. This study models the combined impacts of a climate change scenario and multiple landcover scenarios on the hydrologic regime of a snowmelt-dominated montane catchment, to identify management strategies that mitigate negative impacts from climate and/or landcover change. The combination of climate change and stand replacing landcover disturbance in the middle and high elevations is predicted to advance the timing of the peak flow three to five times more than the advance generated by disturbance alone. The modelling predicts that the combined impacts of climate change and landcover disturbance on peak flow magnitude are generally offsetting for events with return periods less than 5–25 years, but additive for more extreme events. There is a dependency of extreme peak flows on the distribution of landcover. The modelling predicts an increasing importance of rainfall in controlling peak flow response under a changing climate, at the expense of snowmelt influence. Extreme summer low flows are predicted to become commonplace in the future, with most of the change in frequency occurring by the 2050s. Low annual yield is predicted to become more prevalent by the 2050s, but then fully recover or become less prevalent (compared to the current climate) by the 2080s, because of increased precipitation in the fall-spring period. The modelling suggests that landcover disturbance can have a mitigative influence on low water supply. The mitigative influence is predicted to be sustained under a changing climate for annual water yield, but not for low flow. The study results demonstrate the importance of a holistic approach to modelling the hydrological regime rather than focusing on a particular component. Moreover, for managing watershed risk, the results indicate there is a need to carefully evaluate the interplay among environmental variables, the landscape, and the values at risk. Strategies to reduce one risk may increase others, or effective strategies may become less effective in the future.

Russell S. Smith et al.

Status: open (until 28 Dec 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2023-248', Anonymous Referee #1, 13 Nov 2023 reply

Russell S. Smith et al.

Russell S. Smith et al.


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Short summary
Hydrologic impacts of climate and landcover changes were modeled for a watershed. Combined impacts are offsetting for small peak flows, but additive for large events. Extreme summer low flows are predicted to become common. Low annual runoff is predicted to be more prevalent by 2050, then recover. The modeling suggests landcover change can mitigate low water supply. For managing watershed risk, strategies to reduce one risk may increase others, or effective strategies may become less effective.