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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Resolution matters when modeling climate change in headwaters of the Colorado River

  • Author(s): Foster, LM;
  • Williams, KH;
  • Maxwell, RM
  • et al.

The continued growth of Southwestern cities depends on reliable water export from Rocky Mountain headwaters, which provide ~85% of Colorado River Basin (CRB) streamflow. Despite being more sensitive to warming temperatures, alpine systems are simplified in the regional-scale models currently in use to plan for future water supply. We used an integrated hydrologic model that couples groundwater and surface water with snow and vegetation processes to examine the effect of topographic simplifications as a result of grid coarsening in a representative CRB headwater basin. High-resolution (100 m) simulations predicted headwater streamflow losses of 16% by 2050 while coarse-resolution (1 km) simulations predict only 12%, suggesting that regional-scale models (coarser than 1 km) likely overestimate future Colorado River Basin water supplies.

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