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 email@example.com or 206-543-2532 and Nijssen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Ma | Newswise
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
18.01.2017 | Life Sciences
18.01.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences