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Connecting physical watershed characteristics to climate sensitivity for California mountain streams


  • Iris Stewart



California mountain streams provide critical water resources for human supplies and aquatic ecosystems, and have been affected by climatic changes to varying degrees, often within close proximity. The objective of this study is to examine stream flow timing changes and their climatic drivers through 2009, identify sub-regional patterns in response and sensitivity, and explore whether the differences in the sensitivity of a stream to climatic changes can be partially explained through the physical characteristics of a watershed. To this end, changes in streamflow timing for each watershed were assessed through several runoff timing measures, and overall sensitivity to historic climatic changes through a composite sensitivity index. Elevation, aspect, slope, geology, and landcover distributions, as well as climate information were assembled for each watershed; and were analyzed in conjunction with the sensitivity index. Results showed that the basins most sensitive to climatic changes are on the western Sierra Nevada slopes, while eastern and southern Sierra Nevada, as well as Klamath mountain watersheds exhibit little or no response to climatic shifts to date. Basin sensitivity was not found to be connected to any individual physical watershed characteristic other than elevation. However, it is suggested that basin-to-basin differences in sensitivity, observed in spite of regional-scale warming and similar watershed elevations, can be explained by differences in elevation ranges and combinations of physical watershed characteristics. Results about stream differences in climate sensitivity could aid in prioritizing stream preservation efforts. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

Suggested Citation

  • Iris Stewart, 2013. "Connecting physical watershed characteristics to climate sensitivity for California mountain streams," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 116(1), pages 133-148, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:116:y:2013:i:1:p:133-148
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0567-5

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