Decadal-scale changes in the seasonal surface water balance of the Central United States from 1984 to 2007

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Great Lakes Research Center


Variations in climate have important influences on the hydrologic cycle. Observations over the continental United States in recent decades show substantial changes in hydrologically significant variables, such as decreases in cloud cover and increases in solar radiation (i.e., solar brightening), as well as increases in air temperature, changes in wind speed, and seasonal shifts in precipitation rate and rain/snow ratio. Impacts of these changes on the regional water cycle from 1984 to 2007 are evaluated using a terrestrial ecosystem/land surface hydrologic model (Agro-IBIS). Results show an acceleration of various components of the surface water balance in the Upper Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Great Lakes basins over the 24-yr period, but with significant seasonal and spatial complexity. Evapotranspiration (ET) has increased across most of our study domain and seasons. The largest increase is found in fall, when solar brightening trends are also particularly significant. Changes in runoff are characterized by distinct spatial and seasonal variations, with the impact of precipitation often being muted by changes in ET and soil-water storage rate. In snow-dominated regions, such as the northern Great Lakes basin, spring runoff has declined significantly due to warmer air temperatures and an associated decreasing ratio of snow in total precipitation during the cold season. In the northern Missouri basin, runoff shows large increases in all seasons, primarily due to increases in precipitation. The responses to these changes in the regional hydrologic cycle depend on the underlying land cover type—maize, soybean, and natural vegetation. Comparisons are also made with other hydroclimatic time series to place the decadal-scale variability in a longer-term context.

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© 2020 American Meteorological Society. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Journal of Hydrometeorology