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Roy Rasmussen, Kyoko Ikeda, Changhai Liu, David Gochis, Martyn Clark, Aiguo Dai, Ethan Gutmann, Jimy Dudhia, Fei Chen, Mike Barlage, David Yates, and Guo Zhang

Abstract

A high-resolution climate model (4-km horizontal grid spacing) is used to examine the following question: How will long-term changes in climate impact the partitioning of annual precipitation between evapotranspiration and runoff in the Colorado Headwaters?

This question is examined using a climate sensitivity approach in which eight years of current climate is compared to a future climate created by modifying the current climate signal with perturbation from the NCAR Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3), model forced by the A1B scenario for greenhouse gases out to 2050. The current climate period is shown to agree well with Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) surface observations of precipitation (P) and snowpack, as well as streamflow and AmeriFlux evapotranspiration (ET) observations. The results show that the annual evaporative fraction (ET/P) for the Colorado Headwaters is 0.81 for the current climate and 0.83 for the future climate, indicating increasing aridity in the future despite a positive increase of precipitation. Runoff decreased by an average of 6%, reflecting the increased aridity.

Precipitation increased in the future winter by 12%, but decreased in the summer as a result of increased low-level inhibition to convection. The fraction of precipitation that fell as snow decreased from 0.83 in the current climate to 0.74 in the future. Future snowpack did not change significantly until January. From January to March the snowpack increased above ~3000 m MSL and decreased below that level. Snowpack decreased at all elevations in the future from April to July. The peak snowpack and runoff over the headwaters occurred 2–3 weeks earlier in the future simulation, in agreement with previous studies.

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