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Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5047

Prepared in cooperation with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

Simulating Hydrologic Response to Climate Change Scenarios in Four Selected Watersheds of New Hampshire

By David M. Bjerklie, Joseph D. Ayotte, and Matthew J. Cahillane

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (17.7 MB)Abstract

The State of New Hampshire has initiated a coordinated effort to proactively prepare for the effects of climate change on the natural and human resources of New Hampshire. An important aspect of this effort is to develop a vulnerability assessment of hydrologic response to climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, is developing tools to predict how projected changes in temperature and precipitation will affect change in the hydrology of watersheds in the State. This study is a test case to assemble the information and create the tools to assess the hydrologic vulnerabilities in four specific watersheds.

The study uses output from general circulation models to drive hydrologic simulations of streamflow, groundwater base flow (hereafter referred to as base flow), and snowfall in four representative watersheds in New Hampshire during the 21st century, including the watersheds of the Ashuelot, Oyster, Pemigewasset, and Souhegan Rivers. Simulations show that on average, relative to current conditions, streamflow is likely to increase and base flow is likely to decrease, although this change is highly variable by geographic location and season. Streamflow variability will likely increase, with more high streamflows and more low streamflows. The largest increases in streamflow are in the winter, with small decreases in summer. Change in base flow varies across the State with the largest change in the northern Pemigewasset River watershed. Changes in snowfall are consistently decreasing for all watersheds on average, with the largest change also in the Pemigewasset. However, monthly snowfall totals during any given winter could be higher in the future than expected under current conditions.

Increasing frequency of floods (the largest seven floods expected to occur in 20 years) could be more significant than the size of the floods, except in the northern high altitude watersheds. In other words, the projections indicate a pattern of multiple floods that might not breach the riverbanks, yet the increased frequency could put additional strain on the existing river banks, infrastructure, and nearby human settlements. There is also likely to be an increase in high flows during the winter and spring months, which could result in more uncertainty in planning for the design, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure, including roads and utilities. Similarly, it is expected that, on average, there will be less base flow available and a wider range of seasonal fluctuation in base flow than experienced historically. These issues could necessitate more attention to planning and management of the resource. Based on past experience, the most important effects of climate change could be less certain planning options and a greater need for planning that accounts for the effects of larger streamflows than are currently available.

The effects of hydrologic change on human health and well-being could be most readily apparent with respect to changes in streamflow and the subsequent increase in the frequency of minor flooding and the frequency of summer and fall low streamflows. These changes could require the development of plans to adapt, protect, and upgrade infrastructure, such as bridges, culverts, roads, and other structures. The precipitation runoff modeling shows that rivers and watersheds in New Hampshire will likely change in response to climate change, and that this response varies with season and latitude. Although four representative areas were simulated in this study, additional models could be used to predict the response over the entire State.

First posted April 29, 2015

For additional information, contact:
Director, New England Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
101 Pitkin Street
East Hartford, CT 06108
(860) 291–6740

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Suggested citation:

Bjerklie, D.M., Ayotte, J.D., and Cahillane, M.J., 2015, Simulating hydrologic response to climate change scenarios in four selected watersheds of New Hampshire: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5047, 53 p.,

ISSN 2328–0328 (online)




Introduction and Background

Methods and Data

Modeling of Future Streamflows

Potential Implications of Modeled Streamflow Changes

Model Limitations

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

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