A new publication coauthored by Kevin Roche, an assistant professor of civil engineering, sheds light on how rivers will respond to changing precipitation patterns. Roche and his coauthors used mathematical modeling and a large-scale hydrological dataset to explore the link between rainfall variability and river flow variability.
The researchers found that a tug-of-war between two fundamental processes – water uptake by vegetation, and water storage within hillslopes – determines how temporal patterns of precipitation are translated to temporal patterns of river flow. Counterintuitively, many of the 671 rivers the team studied show greater variability of river flow than variability of precipitation. The researchers found that watersheds exhibiting this amplifying trait will likely amplify future changes to rainfall variability as well. These findings imply that projected increases in climatic variability will lead to even more variable river flows—a significant potential challenge for river transportation, ecosystem sustainability, and water supply reliability.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in July 2021.
https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac153e. This research is supported by grant ICER 1824951.