Six Centuries of Upper Indus Basin Streamflow Variability and Its Climatic Drivers

Rao, Mukund Palat; Cook, Edward R.; Cook, Benjamin I.; Palmer, Jonathan G.; Uriarte, Maria; Devineni, Naresh; Lall, Upmanu; D'Arrigo, Rosanne Dorothy; Woodhouse, Connie A.; Ahmed, Moinuddin; Zafar, Muhammad Usama; Khan, Nasrullah; Khan, Adam; Wahab, Muhammad

Our understanding of the full range of natural variability in streamflow, including how modern flow compares to the past, is poorly understood for the Upper Indus Basin because of short instrumental gauge records. To help address this challenge, we use Hierarchical Bayesian Regression with partial pooling to develop six centuries long (1394–2008 CE) streamflow reconstructions at three Upper Indus Basin gauges (Doyian, Gilgit, and Kachora), concurrently demonstrating that Hierarchical Bayesian Regression can be used to reconstruct short records with interspersed missing data. At one gauge (Partab Bridge), with a longer instrumental record (47 years), we develop reconstructions using both Bayesian regression and the more conventionally used principal components regression. The reconstructions produced by principal components regression and Bayesian regression at Partab Bridge are nearly identical and yield comparable reconstruction skill statistics, highlighting that the resulting tree ring reconstruction of streamflow is not dependent on the choice of statistical method. Reconstructions at all four reconstructions indicate that flow levels in the 1990s were higher than mean flow for the past six centuries. While streamflow appears most sensitive to accumulated winter (January–March) precipitation and summer (May–September) temperature, with warm summers contributing to high flow through increased melt of snow and glaciers, shifts in winter
precipitation and summer temperatures cannot explain the anomalously high flow during the 1990s. Regardless, the sensitivity of streamflow to summer temperatures suggests that projected warming may increase streamflow in coming decades, though long-term water risk will additionally depend on changes in snowfall and glacial mass balance.

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Water Resources Research