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Colorado River Basin Hydroclimatic Variability

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  • 1 Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region, Boulder City, Nevada
  • | 2 NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 3 Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 4 Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems, and Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

An analysis of annual hydroclimatic variability in the Upper Colorado River basin (UCRB) for the period of 1906–2006 was performed to understand the dominant modes of multidecadal variability. First, wavelet-based spectral analysis was employed for streamflow at Lees Ferry, Arizona (aggregate location for UCRB flow), which identified two significant modes: a “low frequency” (~64-yr period) mode and a strong “decadal” (~15-yr period) component active only in recent decades. Subsequent investigation of temperature and precipitation data for the UCRB indicated that the low-frequency variability is associated with temperature via modulation of runoff efficiency while the decadal is strongly tied to moisture delivery. Simple hydrology and climate model experiments are also provided to support the aforementioned findings.

Correlation of UCRB precipitation with global sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies showed a strong link with the equatorial and northern Pacific during periods of heightened variability of the decadal mode. The correlation of UCRB temperature with global SST anomalies showed strongest values in the Atlantic consistent with the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation mode. Wavelet spectral analysis of paleo-reconstructed streamflow at Lees Ferry shows both the low-frequency and decadal flow variability features. Furthermore, the strength of the decadal mode is modulated at an ~75-yr time scale, and these are consistent with epochal variations of overall streamflow variance.

Corresponding author address: Kenneth Nowak, University of Colorado, UCB 421, Boulder, CO 80309. E-mail: knowak@usbr.gov

Abstract

An analysis of annual hydroclimatic variability in the Upper Colorado River basin (UCRB) for the period of 1906–2006 was performed to understand the dominant modes of multidecadal variability. First, wavelet-based spectral analysis was employed for streamflow at Lees Ferry, Arizona (aggregate location for UCRB flow), which identified two significant modes: a “low frequency” (~64-yr period) mode and a strong “decadal” (~15-yr period) component active only in recent decades. Subsequent investigation of temperature and precipitation data for the UCRB indicated that the low-frequency variability is associated with temperature via modulation of runoff efficiency while the decadal is strongly tied to moisture delivery. Simple hydrology and climate model experiments are also provided to support the aforementioned findings.

Correlation of UCRB precipitation with global sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies showed a strong link with the equatorial and northern Pacific during periods of heightened variability of the decadal mode. The correlation of UCRB temperature with global SST anomalies showed strongest values in the Atlantic consistent with the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation mode. Wavelet spectral analysis of paleo-reconstructed streamflow at Lees Ferry shows both the low-frequency and decadal flow variability features. Furthermore, the strength of the decadal mode is modulated at an ~75-yr time scale, and these are consistent with epochal variations of overall streamflow variance.

Corresponding author address: Kenneth Nowak, University of Colorado, UCB 421, Boulder, CO 80309. E-mail: knowak@usbr.gov
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