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Differences in the Potential Hydrologic Impact of Climate Change to the Athabasca and Fraser River Basins of Canada with and without Considering Shifts in Vegetation Patterns Induced by Climate Change

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  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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Abstract

The research objectives are to estimate differences between the potential impact of climatic change to the Athabasca River basin (ARB) and Fraser River basin (FRB) of Canada with and without considering shifts in vegetation patterns induced by climate change and how much the difference will depend on vegetation types and climate. The hydrologic effects of vegetation shifts on ARB and FRB were estimated by applying the Mapped Atmosphere–Plant–Soil System (MAPSS) simulated results based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s First and Second Assessment Report general circulation model (GCM) scenarios to the modified Interaction Soil–Biosphere–Atmosphere (MISBA) scheme. According to MAPSS, vegetation shifts in mountainous regions of FRB are expected to be dominated by conifer/broadleaf competition, while in ARB, climate projections of MAPSS predicted a southern expansion of the boreal forest. Because of differences in sublimation, there is a tendency for more snow to accumulate in open grassland than forests. Furthermore, changes to simulated mean annual maximum snowpack, runoff, and basin area covered by grassland are positively correlated to each other. Generally, a 4% increase in snow water equivalent (SWE) results in a 1% increase in mean annual runoff. These relationships hold true in both basins over a wide range of GCM-projected climate conditions and vegetation responses, suggesting that most changes in mean annual flow can be attributed to changes in SWE. Because of the different modeling approaches between MAPSS and MISBA, it seems that the treatment of these processes in vegetation and hydrologic models should be similar before conclusions can be drawn from various stand-alone simulations. Ideally, a land surface scheme should be coupled with a vegetation model in future studies.

Corresponding author address: T. Y. Gan, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB T6G 2W2, Canada. E-mail: tgan@ualberta.ca

Abstract

The research objectives are to estimate differences between the potential impact of climatic change to the Athabasca River basin (ARB) and Fraser River basin (FRB) of Canada with and without considering shifts in vegetation patterns induced by climate change and how much the difference will depend on vegetation types and climate. The hydrologic effects of vegetation shifts on ARB and FRB were estimated by applying the Mapped Atmosphere–Plant–Soil System (MAPSS) simulated results based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s First and Second Assessment Report general circulation model (GCM) scenarios to the modified Interaction Soil–Biosphere–Atmosphere (MISBA) scheme. According to MAPSS, vegetation shifts in mountainous regions of FRB are expected to be dominated by conifer/broadleaf competition, while in ARB, climate projections of MAPSS predicted a southern expansion of the boreal forest. Because of differences in sublimation, there is a tendency for more snow to accumulate in open grassland than forests. Furthermore, changes to simulated mean annual maximum snowpack, runoff, and basin area covered by grassland are positively correlated to each other. Generally, a 4% increase in snow water equivalent (SWE) results in a 1% increase in mean annual runoff. These relationships hold true in both basins over a wide range of GCM-projected climate conditions and vegetation responses, suggesting that most changes in mean annual flow can be attributed to changes in SWE. Because of the different modeling approaches between MAPSS and MISBA, it seems that the treatment of these processes in vegetation and hydrologic models should be similar before conclusions can be drawn from various stand-alone simulations. Ideally, a land surface scheme should be coupled with a vegetation model in future studies.

Corresponding author address: T. Y. Gan, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB T6G 2W2, Canada. E-mail: tgan@ualberta.ca
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