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A Simple Methodology for Estimating Mean and Variability of Annual Runoff and Reservoir Yield under Present and Future Climates

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  • 1 Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • | 2 Department of Civil Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
  • | 3 Marine and Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, Aspendale, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

Overlying the challenge of managing within natural hydroclimatic variability is the likely modification of runoff variability along with average runoff due to anthropogenic enhancement of greenhouse gas concentrations. In this paper analytical models are developed in which runoff mean and variability, the latter defined by the variance (or standard deviation) of annual runoff, are related to the variances and the covariance of annual precipitation and potential evapotranspiration, and the aridity index (mean annual potential evapotranspiration divided by mean annual precipitation). The method was validated using observed runoff data for 699 worldwide catchments. It was concluded that combining the Schreiber function, which relates the ratio of annual actual evapotranspiration to annual precipitation, with the analytical models provided satisfactory estimates of observed annual runoff mean and interannual variability. It was also concluded that estimates of annual runoff variability based on the simplified model of Koster and Suarez were unsatisfactory. By way of illustrating the new methodology, the approach was applied to projected annual values of precipitation from the Hadley Centre Global Environment Model version 1 (HadGEM) and it showed that considerable changes in reservoir yield are likely to occur if climate change projections of precipitation from HadGEM are realistic. Finally, further simplifications of the equations, based on the Schreiber function, are developed to estimate the mean and standard deviation of annual runoff that allow climate analysts to estimate the impact of potential climate changes on annual runoff characteristics and reservoir yield performance without having to resort to the calibration and application of a rainfall-runoff model or rely on the runoff output from general circulation models to examine such characteristics.

Corresponding author address: Thomas A. McMahon, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia. Email: thomasam@unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

Overlying the challenge of managing within natural hydroclimatic variability is the likely modification of runoff variability along with average runoff due to anthropogenic enhancement of greenhouse gas concentrations. In this paper analytical models are developed in which runoff mean and variability, the latter defined by the variance (or standard deviation) of annual runoff, are related to the variances and the covariance of annual precipitation and potential evapotranspiration, and the aridity index (mean annual potential evapotranspiration divided by mean annual precipitation). The method was validated using observed runoff data for 699 worldwide catchments. It was concluded that combining the Schreiber function, which relates the ratio of annual actual evapotranspiration to annual precipitation, with the analytical models provided satisfactory estimates of observed annual runoff mean and interannual variability. It was also concluded that estimates of annual runoff variability based on the simplified model of Koster and Suarez were unsatisfactory. By way of illustrating the new methodology, the approach was applied to projected annual values of precipitation from the Hadley Centre Global Environment Model version 1 (HadGEM) and it showed that considerable changes in reservoir yield are likely to occur if climate change projections of precipitation from HadGEM are realistic. Finally, further simplifications of the equations, based on the Schreiber function, are developed to estimate the mean and standard deviation of annual runoff that allow climate analysts to estimate the impact of potential climate changes on annual runoff characteristics and reservoir yield performance without having to resort to the calibration and application of a rainfall-runoff model or rely on the runoff output from general circulation models to examine such characteristics.

Corresponding author address: Thomas A. McMahon, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia. Email: thomasam@unimelb.edu.au

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