Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Glaciers, Streamflow Changes Are Focus of New Columbia River Study

17.01.2014
The Columbia River is perhaps the most intricate, complex river system in North America. Its diverse landscape crosses international borders and runs through subarctic, desert and sea-level ecosystems. Surrounding communities rely on the river for fishing, agriculture, transportation and electrical power.

As the Earth warms, experts know the Columbia will change – they just don't know how much or when.


Kevin Wingert, Bonneville Power Administration

An aerial view of Bonneville Lock and Dam on the Columbia River. The dam is about 40 miles east of Portland, Ore.

University of Washington environmental engineers are launching a new study to try to understand how climate change will affect streamflow patterns in the Columbia River Basin. The team will look at the impact of glaciers on the river system, the range of possible streamflow changes and how much water will flow in the river at hundreds of locations in future years.

"Getting a new set of streamflow predictions factoring in climate change will help guide long-term decision-making for the Columbia River Basin," said Dennis Lettenmaier, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering. He is leading the project with Bart Nijssen, UW researcher in civil and environmental engineering, and Philip Mote of Oregon State University.

The Columbia River's headwaters are in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, and the waterway winds about 1,200 miles through Washington and along the border of Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. Hydroelectric dams provide cheap electricity to roughly three quarters of the Pacific Northwest's population and help with flood control throughout the basin, particularly in the Portland metro area. It's also an important waterway for migrating salmon, steelhead and sturgeon, and for navigation, irrigation and agriculture.

Changes in streamflow due to climate change could affect hydropower and flood control operations on the Columbia as well as fisheries management and future policy decisions, including a possible treaty renegotiation between the U.S. and Canada.

The UW researchers will use the most recent projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change along with climate and hydrology models to come up with a dataset of streamflow predictions for Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which jointly commissioned this study. The Bonneville Power Administration’s Technology Innovation Office, Oregon State University and the UW are funding the study, which leverages glacier model developments from a NASA-funded interdisciplinary science project.

"Hopefully, this study will be able to better bracket the uncertainty that exists methodologically between all these climate and hydrology models. If we want to be able to plan ahead on a 20- to 50-year timescale, we need to know what range of uncertainty to expect," Nijssen said.

The impact that declining glaciers could have on the basin hasn't fully been studied by U.S. scientists until now, though Canadian researchers recently started to look at their role. Glaciers are receding across the region and, as temperatures warm, they will continue to melt and erode. In 2005, glaciers covered about 420 square miles in the upper reaches of the Canadian Columbia Basin, or roughly 5 percent of that area. Twenty years before glaciers covered 490 square miles.

Melting glaciers put more water into the river system and boost its flow, but only for a period. This short-term boost could actually benefit the river – especially during low-flow periods in the drier summer months – but only in the short term. As the glaciers eventually disappear, perhaps as early as 2100, this added water will also disappear and further reduce already low summer flows, researchers say.

But the river's yearly flows depend mostly on melting snowpack. Cooler spring and early summer temperatures can preserve mountain snowpack until the drier months, when water from melting snow is important to keep river flows high enough for migrating fish. As the climate warms, though, the timing of when that crucial snow melts and discharges into the river also is likely to change.

"The hydrology of the Columbia River basin is really driven by winter snow accumulation and melting in the spring and summer months. When it warms up, you change that balance," Lettenmaier said.

The UW's data could have policy implications for the Columbia River. Since 1964, a treaty between the U.S. and Canada has governed the river for hydropower production and flood control. But starting in 2014, each country can notify the other of an intent to terminate or modify this treaty. Changes to the treaty could be implemented as early as 2024.

"We want to have the best scientific information possible to help federal agencies and other regional stakeholders in long-range decision-making," said Erik Pytlak, manager of the weather and streamflow forecasting for the Bonneville Power Administration. "With or without a treaty, climate change is coming. It will be beneficial for all of our partners and customers in the region to have an updated understanding of what climate change is doing to the region."

The UW's streamflow predictions will be publically available after the study is finished in three years. Similar studies are underway at Portland State University, also funded by Bonneville, and by climate scientists in Canada.

For more information, contact Lettenmaier at dennisl@uw.edu or 206-543-2532 and Nijssen at nijssen@uw.edu

Michelle Ma | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht For a rare prairie orchid, science is making climate change local
12.02.2016 | USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station

nachricht NASA sees Tropical Cyclone Winston form
12.02.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Production of an AIDS vaccine in algae

Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.

The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...

Im Focus: The most accurate optical single-ion clock worldwide

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...

Im Focus: Goodbye ground control: autonomous nanosatellites

The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.

Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...

Im Focus: Flow phenomena on solid surfaces: Physicists highlight key role played by boundary layer velocity

Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.

The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Im Focus: New study: How stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels

A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Symposium on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa 2016

12.02.2016 | Event News

Travel grants available: Meet the world’s most proficient mathematicians and computer scientists

09.02.2016 | Event News

AKL’16: Experience Laser Technology Live in Europe´s Largest Laser Application Center!

02.02.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene leans on glass to advance electronics

12.02.2016 | Materials Sciences

Twisting magnets enhance data storage capacity

12.02.2016 | Materials Sciences

A metal that behaves like water

12.02.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>