Fluvial Response to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest: Skeena River Discharge and Sediment Yield
2. Methods and Study Overview
2.1. The Skeena River, British Columbia, Canada
2.2. HydroTrend 3.0 Model Overview
2.3. HydroTrend Application for the Skeena: Approach, Inputs and Model Calibration
3.1. SBI Discharge and Sediment: Reference Period Model Predictions vs. Usk Measurements
3.2. Skeena Watershed GCM Climate Predictions
4.1. Skeena River Mouth Reference Discharge and Sediment Load
4.2. Skeena River Mouth Future Discharge and Sediment Load
4.2.1. Mean Annual Discharge and Sediment Load
4.2.2. Mean Monthly Discharge and Sediment Load
5.1. Skeena River Sediment Yield in Context
5.2. Future Changes in Discharge and Sediment Load
- This study examined fluvial discharge and sediment load and changes thereof due to climate change of a mountainous river in the Pacific Northwest (Skeena River, BC). For 1981–2010, using measured ECCC climate station inputs, mean annual discharge of the Skeena River is predicted at 1500 m3 s−1 with a mean annual suspended load of 14.7 + 0.6/−1 G kg yr−1 and a sediment yield of 350 t km−2 yr−1. The largest contributor to suspended sediment is derived from glacial sediment.
- Future changes in the climate of the Skeena Basin using GCM inputs predict an increase in summer and winter temperatures, and a development towards drier summers and wetter fall/winter periods by 2100. As a consequence, mean annual discharge is projected to increase rapidly during the period 2011–2040, driven by increased ice melt. Discharge then plateaus or decreases toward the end of the century, as contributions by snow and ice decline and those from rain and subsurface flow increase. An increase in seasonality of discharge occurs, with a distinct late summer secondary (in addition to the primary freshet in spring) flow peak developing due to high fall precipitation. A shift towards earlier peak flow is observed in all model simulations. Sediment load contributed by glaciers is projected to decrease by 64–69% (RCP 4.5) to 87% (RCP 8.5) by the end of the century. Rising precipitation increases the basin-wide mobilization of sediment from overland and instream contributions, particularly towards the end of the century. Bedload increases initially but continues towards the end of the century with a downward trend matching the discharge trend.
- Our findings highlight the sensitivity of mountainous river basins to climate change and stipulate a transition towards rain-dominant fluvial regimes with a loss of glacial ice and snow pack at high altitudes. Our results do not show that such a transition is completed within the Skeena by the end of the century (some contributions from glacial ice and snow pack melt remain by the end of the century). Future work should examine whether this shift is accompanied by changes in transported grain size and stored alluvium, which in turn can alter the stability of riverine and coastal habitats.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|Input Parameter Name||Description||Method of Calculation for the Skeena Basins|
|General Overview Notes||For more description of HydroTrend please consult [15,66]||Consult the Supplementary Materials for greater detail on the methods, the input values for each sub-basin, and for the calibration. |
Input files can be found on GitHub: https://github.com/awild21/SkeenaHydroTrend accessed 23 December 2022.
Except hypsometry (Hydro.HYPS), all values described in this Appendix are included within Hydro.IN.
|Hypsometry||The Hydro.HYPS file contains the area (km2) at each 50-m elevation bin.||The British Columbia digital elevation model (DEM) , was clipped for each sub-basin and binned into 50 m intervals to produce a hypsometry file for each sub-basin. The watershed drainage defined by  were used to derive sub-basin areas.|
|Mean annual Temperature (°C), temp. change/year, & temp. σ;|
Annual Precipitation (m), change/year, & σ.
|Annual climate values at the basin mouth were computed using GCM data or ECCC stations.||Future GCM: GCM data were downloaded from , averaged over the time interval desired (30 years) for each basin, and clipped in a 2 km buffer at the basin outlet.|
Reference ECCC: For the reference SBC and SBI, the nearest up and downstream ECCC stations  to the river outlet were averaged to produce the basin mouth climate. For all of the following inputs described in this Appendix, the inputs for the whole Skeena basin (WS), were calculated through a spatial average (based on the area of SBC (~0.22) or SBI (~0.77) over the total area) of SBI and SBC.
|Rain Mass Balance Coefficient (RC), Distribution Exponent (RD), & Distribution Range (RR)||The RC coefficient is used to scale for a large basin-wide difference in precipitation . A RD is applied to specify the skewness of the default Gaussian distribution and create realistic tails for daily precipitation events. The RR defines the width of the skewed Gaussian distribution and lies between 0 and 10 ||An analysis of ECCC station precipitation curves across the Skeena basin, and a comparison to inputs from [19,25,69] informed value selection.|
|Constant annual base flow (m^3/s)||Constant annual base flow was derived from the mean minimum monthly flow each year at Usk hydrometric station  averaged over 1981–2010.|
|Monthly climate variables of mean temperature (T) in °C, T σ, total monthly Precipitation (P) in mm, and P σ.||Historic: For each basin, daily ECCC climate station variables  were averaged monthly for stations with over ten years of data available over the 1981–2010 period. Climate inputs for the whole Skeena were calculated through a weighted average of SBC and SBI. Temperature was adjusted using the lapse rate  from the mean elevation of the stations/GCM to the elevation of the basin outlet.|
Future: For 2011–2100, for each GCM and RCP, statistically downscaled climate scenarios raster grids for mean T maximum (TMax), T minimum (TMin), and P were downloaded from the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium  under 5 year increments, averaged into a 30 year mean raster in Matlab, and clipped over the basin area in ArcGIS. TMax and TMin are averaged to produce the T mean. Temperature was adjusted using the  lapse rate from the mean elevation of the stations/GCM to the elevation of the basin outlet.
|Lapse rate (°C/km)||The Syvitski et al.  graph was used to estimate lapse rate based on latitude.|
|Starting glacier ELA (m) and ELA change per year (ma−1)||Mean starting Equilibrium line altitude for the basin.||The mean glacier ELA was calculated using a dataset retrieved from the Rudolf Glacier Inventory  that was developed through an analysis on 2004–2006 glaciers within British Columbia (BC). A study on glacier mass balance in northern BC and Alaska under different climate change scenarios  was used to derive ELA change per year.|
|Dry precipitation evaporation fraction (ICE)||The ICE falls between 0.0 and 0.9 and is used to estimate the percentage of snow and ice that will be evaporated ||Lintern and Haaf  have run HydroTrend over the Liard basin further north in British Columbia with an estimated ICE of 0.27. The Liard ICE was scaled for the Skeena based on the ECCC central station’s  percentage of the year without precipitation of the two basins.|
|Canopy interception alpha g (mmd−1), beta g (-).||The model uses the canopy interception parameters to estimate how much precipitation is reaching the ground and contributing to runoff ||The canopy interception values of −0.1 and 0.85 was applied for the Skeena watershed based on recommendations on the CSDMS website .|
|Groundwater pole evapotranspiration alpha_gwe (mmd−1), beta_gwe (-).||HydroTrend applies the groundwater pole evapotranspiration parameters to estimate the amount of water from the ground being taken up by plants and brought into the atmosphere by evapotranspiration ||The recommended common values of 10 mm day−1 and 1 were used for the Skeena .|
|Delta Gradient (m/m)||The delta plain gradient in m/m is the average slope of the riverbed approaching the delta mouth.||Delta plain gradient was derived from values in  or measured in Google Earth.|
|River basin length (km)||The River basin length for each sub-basin was measured in ArcMap using Global Mapper satellite imagery and the National Hydro Network of rivers and streams layer .|
|Mean volume (km3), altitude (m) or drainage area of reservoirs (km2)||Using the National Hydro Network  for lakes and reservoirs along with the BC DEM , the average altitude and area for all of the lakes and reservoirs were calculated. Mean lake depth was estimated based on available data from [73,74].|
|River mouth velocity coef.(k) and exponent (m) (v = kQm);|
River mouth width coef. (a) and exponent (b) (w = aQb).
|River mouth velocity and width coefficient were calculated using channel width, depth, velocity, and discharge based on the hydraulic geometry formulas developed by Leopold & Maddock (1953) .||Leopold & Maddock  describe common exponents at a river’s mouth as 0.5, 0.1, and 0.4 for b, m, and f, respectively.|
For SBI, mean discharge and water level were calculated using Usk station data from ECCC  and channel width was measured using Google Earth Satellite imagery. For SBC, the discharge was derived from BC Ministry of Environment  discharge summation. In addition, at the start of the river mouth, prior to substantial tidal inundation, depth was taken from the nearest Canadian Hydrographic Service bathymetry. Channel width was measured in ArcMap. Velocity was derived from the discharge divided by the width and depth according to hydraulic geometry.
|Average river velocity (ms−1)||Velocity was derived from the 1981–2010 mean discharge at Usk hydrometric station  divided by the product of the mean water level from Usk  and mean channel width measured using Digital Globe satellite imagery. Since Usk was centrally located within the Skeena watershed and due to limited hydrometric data, the velocity at Usk was used as the average velocity for the river.|
|Maximum/minimum Groundwater storage (m3)||A global data set by Webb et al. (2000)  displays a raster of estimates of global soil texture and derived water holding capacity across the globe per arc second grid blocks, was used to estimate the minimum and maximum groundwater stored within the Skeena. Within ArcGIS, the minimum and maximum storage for each pixel type was multiplied over each pixel area and added together for each Skeena  sub-basin.|
|Initial Groundwater storage (m3)||The initial groundwater storage was set the mean condition between the maximum and minimum groundwater storage of the model to reduce the model run up time.|
|Ground water (subsurface storm flow) coefficient (m3s−1) and exponent (unitless)||SSF coefficient and exponent required by the model, the coefficient and exponent were adapted from those used by Linter and Haaf, (2014)  over the Liard basin. The Liard basin has relatively comparable surficial material as the Skeena [17,27]. However, Skeena and the Liard basins are very different in size. Therefore, the SSF and total area for the Liard basin  was scaled to match the area of the Skeena and each sub-basin used within the model. The SSF exponent was set to one, as was the exponent used within all sub-basins of the Mackenzie .|
|Saturated hydraulic conductivity (mmday−1)||Proportions of surface lithology for the Skeena (see ) were estimated for each sub-basin. Applied to the soil textural and related saturated hydraulic conductivity chart shared on the CSDMS website , a hydraulic conductivity value of 121.91 mm day−1 was used to describe the glacial till substrate. A medium texture of silt with a hydraulic conductivity of 36. 55 mm day−1 was chosen to represent alluvium. The marine sand and complex material were attributed a loam sand- sandy loam texture of 364.95 mm day−1. Based on the CSDMS hydraulic conductivity table, a rough estimate of 1 mm day−1 was applied to the bedrock. A weighted average based on the proportion of the sub-basin covered by each landcover type based on surface lithological maps and descriptions [12,17] was as used to compute the total sub-basin average hydraulic conductivity.|
|Longitude, latitude at river mouth.||Latitude and longitude retrieved from ArcMap.|
|BQART Equation: Lithology factor from hard (max. 0.3) to weak (min. 3) material.||A lithology factor of 1 (SBC) to 2 (SBI) depending on the Skeena basin was chosen based on a classification scheme defined by Syvitski and Milliman (2007) . A lithology factor of 1 is intended for areas consisting of volcanic rock or a mixture of hard to soft lithologies , typical for the Skeena Coast . A lithology factor of 2 represents a greater proportion of glacial till and clastic sediments , typical for the Skeena Interior . A lithology factor of 1.5 represents softer-mixed lithology .|
|BQART Equation: Anthropogenic factor (0.5–8) of human disturbance on the landscape||Syvitski and Milliman (2007)  have defined the anthropogenic factor on a global scale based on population density and gross national product (GNP) per capita. For basins around dense cities in the United States and Europe, a factor of 0.5 is recommended due to a high population density, GNP/capita, and human influence on soil erosion. A factor of one was displayed for most of the globe and was described as areas with a low human footprint or a mixture of soil erosion and conservation drivers. Basins in parts of Asia, with a high population, but low GNP/capita or those at their historic peak of forestation of open pit mining are recommended with a value of 2 . Although the Skeena is influenced by forestry, the impacts appear lower than those in other basins on a global scale. Therefore, a factor of 1 was chosen for the Skeena.|
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(Lithology 2 ( −0.5) for SBI & 1 (+ 0.5) for SBC)
(Outlet Slope 0.333 m/km +/−0.1 m/km)
|Total, Mean Annual Sediment Load (S)||Total Sediment Yield (Ys)|
|Units||km2||m3 s−1||G kg yr−1||G kg yr−1||G kg yr−1||G kg yr−1||G kg yr−1||t km−2 yr−1|
|Interior Sub-basin (SBI) Model Run||42,360||910||2.8||3.9 (to 2.9)||6.7 (to 5.7)||3.6||10.3||240|
|Coastal Sub-basin (SBC) Model Run||12,050||580||6.8||1.2 (to 1.8)||8.0 (to 8.6)||1.5 (1.1 to 2)||9.5||790|
|Skeena whole basin Model Run||54,410||1570||22.4||4.1 (2.7 to 5.4)||26.5 (25 to 28)||4.2 (5.5 to 2.9)||30.7||560|
|Best Estimate for the Skeena Mouth||54,410||1490–1570||9.6||5.1 (+0.6/−1)||14.7 (+0.6/−1)||4.2 (+/−1.3)||18.9|
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Wild, A.L.; Kwoll, E.; Lintern, D.G.; Fargey, S. Fluvial Response to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest: Skeena River Discharge and Sediment Yield. Water 2023, 15, 167. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15010167
Wild AL, Kwoll E, Lintern DG, Fargey S. Fluvial Response to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest: Skeena River Discharge and Sediment Yield. Water. 2023; 15(1):167. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15010167Chicago/Turabian Style
Wild, Amanda Lily, Eva Kwoll, D. Gwyn Lintern, and Shannon Fargey. 2023. "Fluvial Response to Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest: Skeena River Discharge and Sediment Yield" Water 15, no. 1: 167. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15010167