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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5175

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Basin-Scale Simulation of Current and Potential Climate Changed Hydrologic Conditions in the Lake Michigan Basin, United States

By Daniel E. Christiansen, John F. Walker, and Randall J. Hunt

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (12.1 MB)Abstract

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is the largest public investment in the Great Lakes in two decades. A task force of 11 Federal agencies developed an action plan to implement the initiative. The U.S. Department of the Interior was one of the 11 agencies that entered into an interagency agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the GLRI to complete scientific projects throughout the Great Lakes basin. The U.S. Geological Survey, a bureau within the Department of the Interior, is involved in the GLRI to provide scientific support to management decisions aswell as measure progress of the Great Lakes basin restoration efforts. This report presents basin-scale simulated current and forecast climatic and hydrologic conditions in the Lake Michigan Basin. The forecasts were obtained by constructing and calibrating a Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS) model of the Lake Michigan Basin; the PRMS model was calibrated using the parameter estimation and uncertainty analysis (PEST) software suite. The calibrated model was used to evaluate potential responses to climate change by using four simulated carbon emission scenarios from eight general circulation models released by the World Climate Research Programme’s Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3. Statistically downscaled datasets of these scenarios were used to project hydrologic response for the Lake Michigan Basin.

In general, most of the observation sites in the Lake Michigan Basin indicated slight increases in annual streamflow in response to future climate change scenarios. Monthly streamflows indicated a general shift from the current (2014) winter-storage/snowmelt-pulse system to a system with a more equally distributed hydrograph throughout the year. Simulated soil moisture within the basin illustrates that conditions within the basin are also expected to change on a monthly timescale. One effect of increasing air temperature as a result of the changing climate was the appreciable increase in the length of the growing season in the Lake Michigan Basin. The increase in growing season will cause an increase in evapotranspiration across the Lake Michigan Basin, which will directly affect soil moisture and late growing season streamflows. Output from the Lake Michigan Basin PRMS model is available through an online dynamic web mapping service available at ( The map service includes layers for each of the 8 global climate models and 4 carbon emission scenarios combinations for 12 hydrologic model state variables. The layers are pre-rendered maps of annual hydrologic response from 1977 through 2099 that provide an easily accessible online method to examine climate change effects across the Lake Michigan Basin.

First posted November 19, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Iowa Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
PO BOX 1230
Iowa City, Iowa 52244-1230

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Suggested citation:

Christiansen, D.E., Walker, J.F., and Hunt, R.J., 2014, Basin-scale simulation of current and potential climate changed hydrologic conditions in the Lake Michigan Basin, United States: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5175, 74 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)




Modeling Methods and Techniques

Hydrologic Response to Climate Change Scenarios



Appendix 1. Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System Statistical Graphs

Appendix 2. Annual Climate Change Boxplots

Appendix 3. Mean Monthly Climate Change Boxplots

Appendix 4. High Streamflow Climate Change Boxplots

Appendix 5. Low Streamflow Climate Change Boxplots

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