The Hydrologic Cycle of the La Plata Basin in the WCRP-CMIP3 Multimodel Dataset

Ramiro I. Saurral Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (FCEN-UBA), and Center for Atmospheric and Oceanic Research (CONICET-UBA), Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Abstract

General circulation models (GCMs) forced under different greenhouse gases emission and socioeconomic scenarios are currently the most extended tool throughout the scientific community that is used to infer the future climate on Earth. However, these models still have problems in capturing several aspects of regional climate variability in many parts of the globe. In this paper, the hydrological cycle of the La Plata Basin is simulated using the variable infiltration capacity (VIC) distributed hydrology model and forced with atmospheric data from different GCMs to determine to what extent errors in temperature and precipitation fields impact the hydrology of the basin. The skill assessment is performed in terms of simulated runoff at different closing points. Simulated hydrographs show that all of the GCMs present deficiencies in simulating the regional climatology of southern South America, and this leads to a very poor representation of the hydrological cycle of the main rivers across the basin. Two unbiasing schemes are then proposed as a means of correcting the GCM outputs before forcing the hydrology model, and comparisons between biased and unbiased simulations are also performed. Results indicate that both schemes, though methodologically different, reduce the water cycle simulation bias. Finally, VIC is forced with bias-corrected data from the GCMs for future decades (2030 and 2070) under different socioeconomic scenarios [e.g., the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) scenarios A1B, A2, and B1] to determine the potential changes in streamflow due to climate change for the rest of the present century.

Corresponding author address: Ramiro I. Saurral, Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, Int. Guiraldes 2160, Ciudad Universitaria, Pab. 2 (C1428EGA), Buenos Aires, Argentina. Email: saurral@cima.fcen.uba.ar

Abstract

General circulation models (GCMs) forced under different greenhouse gases emission and socioeconomic scenarios are currently the most extended tool throughout the scientific community that is used to infer the future climate on Earth. However, these models still have problems in capturing several aspects of regional climate variability in many parts of the globe. In this paper, the hydrological cycle of the La Plata Basin is simulated using the variable infiltration capacity (VIC) distributed hydrology model and forced with atmospheric data from different GCMs to determine to what extent errors in temperature and precipitation fields impact the hydrology of the basin. The skill assessment is performed in terms of simulated runoff at different closing points. Simulated hydrographs show that all of the GCMs present deficiencies in simulating the regional climatology of southern South America, and this leads to a very poor representation of the hydrological cycle of the main rivers across the basin. Two unbiasing schemes are then proposed as a means of correcting the GCM outputs before forcing the hydrology model, and comparisons between biased and unbiased simulations are also performed. Results indicate that both schemes, though methodologically different, reduce the water cycle simulation bias. Finally, VIC is forced with bias-corrected data from the GCMs for future decades (2030 and 2070) under different socioeconomic scenarios [e.g., the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) scenarios A1B, A2, and B1] to determine the potential changes in streamflow due to climate change for the rest of the present century.

Corresponding author address: Ramiro I. Saurral, Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, Int. Guiraldes 2160, Ciudad Universitaria, Pab. 2 (C1428EGA), Buenos Aires, Argentina. Email: saurral@cima.fcen.uba.ar

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