Long-term Relationships Between Ocean Variability and Water Resources in Northeastern Utah

Published In: Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 46, no. 5, Oct. 2010, p. 987-1002

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2010

by Abbie Tingstad, Glen M. MacDonald

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The Uinta Mountains in the northwestern Colorado River Basin are an important source of water for Utah and the western United States. This article examines 20th Century hydrology in the Uinta Mountains region in the context of the previous four to eight centuries as well as possible relationships with Pacific and Atlantic Ocean variability using new tree-ring based reconstructions for streamflow and snowpack. The 20th Century appears to have been unusually wet compared with previous centuries. Relationships between hydrology in the region and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) are largely insignificant in instrumental datasets but may have been stronger, although inconsistent, over the longer time spans represented by the paleoclimate records. Impacts of individual modes of sea surface temperature variability may sometimes be enhanced by periods when climate forcing by ENSO, PDO, and/or AMO coincide. Such episodes are associated with deviations from mean hydrology as high as +14% and as low as −18%. The 20th Century could be a misleading benchmark to base water resource estimates upon and flexible water management strategies are necessary to take into account the large range of natural variability observed in the longer-term hydroclimatology as well as the challenges to predictability due to the apparently complex and inconsistent influence of ocean-driven variability.

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