An overview of the Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project: Approach, methods, and summary of key results


Hamlet, A.F., Elsner, M.M., Mauger, G.S., Lee, S-Y., Tohver, I., Norheim, R.A. 2013. An overview of the Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project: Approach, methods, and summary of key results. Atmosphere-Ocean 51(4):392-415, doi: 10.1080/07055900.2013.819555.


The Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project (CBCCSP) was conceived as a comprehensive hydrologic database to support climate change planning, impacts assessment, and adaptation in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) by a diverse user community with varying technical capacity over a wide range of spatial scales. The study has constructed a state-of-the-art, end-to-end data processing sequence from “raw” climate model output to a suite of hydrologic modelling products that are served to the user community from a web-accessible database. A calibrated 1/16 degree latitude-longitude resolution implementation of the VIC hydrologic model over the Columbia River basin was used to produce historical simulations and 77 future hydrologic projections associated with three different statistical downscaling methods and three future time periods (2020s, 2040s, and 2080s).

Key products from the study include summary data for about 300 river locations in the PNW and monthly Geographic Information System products for 21 hydrologic variables over the entire study domain. Results from the study show profound changes in spring snowpack and fundamental shifts from snow and mixed-rain-and-snow to rain-dominant behaviour across most of the domain. Associated shifts in streamflow timing from spring and summer to winter are also evident in basins with significant snow accumulation in winter (for the current climate). Potential evapotranspiration increases over most of the PNW in summer because of rising temperatures; however, actual evapotranspiration is reduced in all but a few areas of the domain because evapotranspiration is mostly water limited in summer, and summer precipitation decreases in the simulations. Simulated widespread increases in soil moisture recharge in fall and winter in areas with significant snow accumulation in winter (for the current climate) support hypotheses of increased landslide risk and sediment transport in winter in the future. Simulations of floods and extreme low flows increase in intensity for most of the river sites included in the study. The largest increases in flooding are in mixed-rain-and-snow basins whose current mid-winter temperatures are within a few degrees of freezing. The CBCCSP database has been a valuable public resource that has dramatically reduced costs in a number of high-visibility studies in the PNW and western United States focused on technical coordination and planning.