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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5080

Prepared in cooperation with the Maine Department of Transportation

Modeled Future Peak Streamflows in Four Coastal Maine Rivers

By Glenn A. Hodgkins and Robert W. Dudley

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (2.71 MB)Abstract

To safely and economically design bridges and culverts, it is necessary to compute the magnitude of peak streamflows that have specified annual exceedance probabilities (AEPs). Annual precipitation and air temperature in the northeastern United States are, in general, projected to increase during the 21st century. It is therefore important for engineers and resource managers to understand how peak flows may change in the future. This report, prepared in cooperation with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), presents modeled changes in peak flows at four basins in coastal Maine on the basis of projected changes in air temperature and precipitation.

To estimate future peak streamflows at the four basins in this study, historical values for climate (temperature and precipitation) in the basins were adjusted by different amounts and input to a hydrologic model of each study basin. To encompass the projected changes in climate in coastal Maine by the end of the 21st century, air temperatures were adjusted by four different amounts, from -3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (ºF) (-2 degrees Celsius (ºC)) to +10.8 ºF (+6 ºC) of observed temperatures. Precipitation was adjusted by three different percentage values from -15 percent to +30 percent of observed precipitation. The resulting 20 combinations of temperature and precipitation changes (includes the no-change scenarios) were input to Precipitation-Runoff Modeling System (PRMS) watershed models, and annual daily maximum peak flows were calculated for each combination. Modeled peak flows from the adjusted changes in temperature and precipitation were compared to unadjusted (historical) modeled peak flows.

Annual daily maximum peak flows increase or decrease, depending on whether temperature or precipitation is adjusted; increases in air temperature (with no change in precipitation) lead to decreases in peak flows, whereas increases in precipitation (with no change in temperature) lead to increases in peak flows. As the magnitude of air temperatures increase in the four basins, peak flows decrease by larger amounts. If precipitation is held constant (no change from historical values), 17 to 26 percent decreases in peak flow occur at the four basins when temperature is increased by 7.2°F. If temperature is held constant, 26 to 38 percent increases in peak flow result from a 15-percent increase in precipitation. The largest decreases in peak flows at the four basins result from 15-percent decreases in precipitation combined with temperature increases of 10.8°F. The largest increases in peak flows generally result from 30-percent increases in precipitation combined with 3.6 °F decreases in temperatures.

In many cases when temperature and precipitation both increase, small increases or decreases in annual daily maximum peak flows result. For likely changes projected for the northeastern United States for the middle of the 21st century (temperature increase of 3.6 °F and precipitation increases of 0 to 15 percent), peak-flow changes at the four coastal Maine basins in this study are modeled to be evenly distributed between increases and decreases of less than 25 percent.

Peak flows with 50-percent and 1-percent AEPs (equivalent to 2-year and 100-year recurrence interval peak flows, respectively) were calculated for the four basins in the study using the PRMS-modeled annual daily maximum peak flows. Modeled peak flows with 50-percent and 1-percent AEPs with adjusted temperatures and precipitation were compared to unadjusted (historical) modeled values. Changes in peak flows with 50-percent AEPs are similar to changes in annual daily maximum peak flow; changes in peak flows with 1-percent AEPs are similar in pattern to changes in annual daily maximum peak flow, but some of the changes associated with increasing precipitation are much larger than changes in annual daily maximum peak flow.

Substantial decreases in maximum annual winter snowpack water equivalent are modeled to occur with increasing air temperatures at the four basins in the study. (Snowpack is the snow on the ground that accumulates during a winter, and water equivalent is the amount of water in a snowpack if it were melted.) The decrease in modeled peak flows with increasing air temperature, given no change in precipitation amount, is likely caused by these decreases in winter snowpack and resulting decreases in snowmelt runoff.

First posted June 14, 2013

For additional information contact:
Office Chief
U.S. Geological Survey
New England Water Science Center
Maine Office
196 Whitten Road
Augusta, ME 04330
(207) 622–8201

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Suggested citation:

Hodgkins, G.A., and Dudley, R.W., 2013, Modeled future peak streamflows in four coastal Maine rivers: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5080, 18 p.,




Description of the Study River Basins


Historical Modeled Peak Flows Compared to Observed Values

Historical Modeled Flood Frequency Compared to Observed Values

Changes in Peak Flows on the Basis of Changes in Air Temperature and Precipitation

Changes in Flood Frequency on the Basis of Changes in Air Temperature and Precipitation

Causes of Modeled Changes in Peak Flows and Flood Frequency

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

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