Abstract

The Rocky Mountains in North America are comprised of headwater snow catchments that provide sustained seasonal flow downstream. Changes in streamflow over the last half century in these basins may be associated with changing climate with increased temperature and variable precipitation, shifting seasonal hydrology. We investigated potential changes in future hydrology in a Rocky Mountain headwater catchment by simulating water budgets of the Athabasca River located in Jasper National Park, Canada. Potential hydrologic changes were predicted using a calibrated version of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). Future discharge and other parts of the catchment water budget were projected based on the global circulation model (GCM) derived from the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) for the latter part of the century (2081–2099). A projected decrease in future precipitation resulted in reduced mean annual streamflow, by up to 86%, compared to the baseline period for the catchment. Projected summer streamflow decreased from 58 to 39%. Streamflow increased from 13 to 26% during the spring, dampening the dominance of summer peak-flow hydrology. Colder winters for the future scenarios increase the overall proportion of precipitation as winter snowfall. However, dramatically lower precipitation estimated for this basin will drive water limits for the future.

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