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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5159

Groundwater Resources Program
Climate and Land Use Change Research & Development

Simulation of Climate-Change Effects on Streamflow, Lake Water Budgets, and Stream Temperature Using GSFLOW and SNTEMP, Trout Lake Watershed, Wisconsin

By Randall J. Hunt, John F. Walker, William R. Selbig, Stephen M. Westenbroek, and R. Steven Regan

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (15.9 MB)Abstract

Although groundwater and surface water are considered a single resource, historically hydrologic simulations have not accounted for feedback loops between the groundwater system and other hydrologic processes. These feedbacks include timing and rates of evapotranspiration, surface runoff, soil-zone flow, and interactions with the groundwater system. Simulations that iteratively couple the surface-water and groundwater systems, however, are characterized by long run times and calibration challenges. In this study, calibrated, uncoupled transient surface-water and steady-state groundwater models were used to construct one coupled transient groundwater/surface-water model for the Trout Lake Watershed in north-central Wisconsin, USA. The computer code GSFLOW (Ground-water/Surface-water FLOW) was used to simulate the coupled hydrologic system; a surface-water model represented hydrologic processes in the atmosphere, at land surface, and within the soil-zone, and a groundwater-flow model represented the unsaturated zone, saturated zone, stream, and lake budgets. The coupled GSFLOW model was calibrated by using heads, streamflows, lake levels, actual evapotranspiration rates, solar radiation, and snowpack measurements collected during water years 1998–2007; calibration was performed by using advanced features present in the PEST parameter estimation software suite.

Simulated streamflows from the calibrated GSFLOW model and other basin characteristics were used as input to the one-dimensional SNTEMP (Stream-Network TEMPerature) model to simulate daily stream temperature in selected tributaries in the watershed. The temperature model was calibrated to high-resolution stream temperature time-series data measured in 2002. The calibrated GSFLOW and SNTEMP models were then used to simulate effects of potential climate change for the period extending to the year 2100. An ensemble of climate models and emission scenarios was evaluated. Downscaled climate drivers for the period 2010–2100 showed increases in maximum and minimum temperature over the scenario period. Scenarios of future precipitation did not show a monotonic trend like temperature. Uncertainty in the climate drivers increased over time for both temperature and precipitation.

Separate calibration of the uncoupled groundwater and surface-water models did not provide a representative initial parameter set for coupled model calibration. A sequentially linked calibration, in which the uncoupled models were linked by means of utility software, provided a starting parameter set suitable for coupled model calibration. Even with sequentially linked calibration, however, transmissivity of the lower part of the aquifer required further adjustment during coupled model calibration to attain reasonable parameter values for evaporation rates off a small seepage lake (a lake with no appreciable surface-water outlets) with a long history of study. The resulting coupled model was well calibrated to most types of observed time-series data used for calibration. Daily stream temperatures measured during 2002 were successfully simulated with SNTEMP; the model fit was acceptable for a range of groundwater inflow rates into the streams.

Forecasts of potential climate change scenarios showed growing season length increasing by weeks, and both potential and actual evapotranspiration rates increasing appreciably, in response to increasing air temperature. Simulated actual evapotranspiration rates increased less than simulated potential evapotranspiration rates as a result of water limitation in the root zone during the summer high-evapotranspiration period. The hydrologic-system response to climate change was characterized by a reduction in the importance of the snow-melt pulse and an increase in the importance of fall and winter groundwater recharge. The less dynamic hydrologic regime is likely to result in drier soil conditions in rainfed wetlands and uplands, in contrast to less drying in groundwater-fed systems. Seepage lakes showed larger forecast stage declines related to climate change than did drainage lakes (lakes with outlet streams). Seepage lakes higher in the watershed (nearer to groundwater divides) had less groundwater inflow and thus had larger forecast declines in lake stage; however, ground-water inflow to seepage lakes in general tended to increase as a fraction of the lake budgets with lake-stage decline because inward hydraulic gradients increased. Drainage lakes were characterized by less simulated stage decline as reductions in outlet streamflow of set losses to other water flows. Net groundwater inflow tended to decrease in drainage lakes over the scenario period.

Simulated stream temperatures increased appreciably with climate change. The estimated increase in annual average temperature ranged from approximately 1 to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 in the stream characterized by a high groundwater inflow rate and 2 to 3 degrees Celsius in the stream with a lower rate. The climate drivers used for the climate-change scenarios had appreciable variation between the General Circulation Model and emission scenario selected; this uncertainty was reflected in hydrologic flow and temperature model results. Thus, as with all forecasts of this type, the results are best considered to approximate potential outcomes of climate change.

First posted November 8, 2013

Revised December 2, 2013

For additional information, contact:
Director, Wisconsin Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
8505 Research Way
Middleton, WI 53562

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Suggested citation:

Hunt, R.J., Walker, J.F., Selbig, W.R., Westenbroek, S.M., and Regan, R.S., 2013, Simulation of climate-change effects on streamflow, lake water budgets, and stream temperature using GSFLOW and SNTEMP, Trout Lake Watershed, Wisconsin: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5159, 118 p.,




Site Description and Hydrologic Setting

GSFLOW Groundwater/Surface-Water Modeling Approach

SNTEMP Temperature Model Description, Construction, and Calibration

Climate-Change Scenario Construction

Results and Discussion

GSFLOW and SNTEMP Limitations and Assumptions


References Cited

Appendix 1. Groundwater Model Construction

Appendix 2. Surface-Water Model Construction

Appendix 3. Model Calibration

Appendix 4. Temperature Model Construction and Calibration

Appendix 5. WEBB and LTER Data Collection (1991–2011)

Appendix 6. Calibration Results

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