Impact of two different types of El Ninõ events on runoff over the conterminous United States

Journal Article (Journal Article)

© 2016 Author(s).The responses of river runoff to shifts of largescale climatic patterns are of increasing concerns to water resource planners and managers for long-term climate change adaptation. El Ninõ, as one of the most dominant modes of climate variability, is closely linked to hydrologic extremes such as floods and droughts that cause great loss of lives and properties. However, the different impacts of the two types of El Ninõ, i.e., central Pacific (CP-) and eastern Pacific (EP-)El Ninõ, on runoff across the conterminous US (CONUS) are not well understood. This study characterizes the impacts of the CP-and EP-El Ninõ on seasonal and annual runoff using observed streamflow data from 658 reference gaging stations and the NCAR-CCSM4 model. We found that surface runoff responds similarly to the two types of El Ninõ events in southeastern, central, southern, and western coastal regions, but differently in northeast (NE), Pacific northwest (PNW) and west north central (WNC) climatic zones. Specifically, EP-El Ninõ events tend to bring above-average runoff in NE, WNC, and PNW throughout the year while CP-El Ninõ events cause below-than normal runoff in the three regions. Similar findings were also found by analyzing NCARCCSM4 model outputs that captured both the CP-and EP-El Ninõ events, representing the best data set among CMIP5 models. The CCSM4 model simulates lower runoff values during CP-El Ninõ years than those in EP-El Ninõ over all of the three climatic regions (NE, PNW, and WNC) during 1950-1999. In the future (2050-2099), for both types of El Ninõ years, runoff is projected to increase over the NE and PNW regions, mainly due to increased precipitation (P/. In contrast, the increase of future evapotranspiration (ET) exceeds that of future P, leading to a projected decrease in runoff over the WNC region. In addition, model analysis indicates that all of the three regions (NE, PNW, and WNC) are projected to have lower runoff in CP-El Ninõ years than in EP-El Ninõ years. Our study suggests that the US water resources may be distributed more unevenly in space and time with more frequent and intense flood and drought events. The findings from this study have important implications to water resource management at regional scales. Information generated from this study may help water resource planners to anticipate the influence of two different types of El Ninõ events on droughts and floods across the CONUS.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Tang, T; Li, W; Sun, G

Published Date

  • January 15, 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 20 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 27 - 37

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1607-7938

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1027-5606

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.5194/hess-20-27-2016

Citation Source

  • Scopus