Covariability of climate and streamflow in the Upper Rio Grande from interannual to interdecadal timescales

Pascolini-Campbell, Madeleine Anne; Seager, Richard; Pinson, Ariane; Cook, Benjamin I.

Study region: The Upper Rio Grande (URG) flows from its headwaters in Colorado, U.S., and provides an important source of water to millions of people in the U.S. states of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and also Mexico.

Study focus: We reassess the explanatory power of the relationship of sea surface temperatures (SST) on URG streamflow variability on interannual to interdecadal timescales. We find a significant amount of the variance of spring-summer URG streamflow cannot be fully explained by SST.

New hydrological insights: We find that the interdecadal teleconnection between SST and streamflow is more clear than on interannual timescales. The highest ranked years tend to be clustered during positive phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). During the periods of decadal high flow (1900–1920, and 1979–1995), Pacific SST resembles a positive PDO pattern and the Atlantic a negative Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) pattern; an interbasin pattern shown in prior studies to be conducive to high precipitation and streamflow. To account for the part of streamflow variance not explained by SST, we analyze atmospheric Reanalysis data for the months preceding the highest spring-summer streamflow events. A variety of atmospheric configurations are found to precede the highest flow years through anomalous moisture convergence. This lack of consistency suggests that, on interannual timescales, weather and not climate can dominate the generation of high streamflow events.

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Also Published In

Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies