Hydrologic implications of projected changes in rain-on-snow melt for Great Lakes Basin watersheds

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Myers, D.T., D.L. Ficklin, and S.M. Robeson. 2023. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 27(9): 1755–1770.

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Rain-on-snow (ROS) melt events reduce the amount of water stored in the snowpack while also exacerbating flooding. The hydrologic implications of changing ROS events in a warming climate, however, are still uncertain. This research used a calibrated and validated Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) hydrologic model, modified with energy budget equations to simulate ROS melt and forced with a climate model ensemble representing moderate greenhouse gas concentrations, to simulate changes to ROS melt in the North American Great Lakes Basin from 1960–2069. The changes to ROS events between the historic period (1960–1999) and mid-century (2040–2069) represent an approximately 30 % reduction in melt in warmer, southern subbasins but less than 5 % reduction in melt in colder, northern subbasins. Additionally, proportionally more rainfall reduces the formation of snowpacks, with area-weighted combined winter and spring rain-to-snow ratios rising from approximately 1.5 historically to 1.9 by the mid-21st century. Areas with historic mean combined winter and spring air temperatures lower than −2 ∘C have ROS regimes that are resilient to mid-21st century warming projections, but ROS occurrence in areas that have mean combined winter and spring temperatures near the freezing point are sensitive to changing air temperatures. Also, relationships between changes in the timing of ROS melt and water yield endure throughout spring but become weak by summer. As the influence of ROS melt events on hydrological systems is being altered in a changing climate, these conclusions are important to inform adaptive management of freshwater ecosystems and human uses in regions of the globe that are sensitive to changes in ROS events.