Effects of a century of land cover and climate change on the hydrology of Puget Sound basin


Cuo, L., Lettenmaier, D.P., Alberti, M., Richey, J.E. 2009. Effects of a century of land cover and climate change on the hydrology of Puget Sound basin. Hydrological Processes 23: 907-933.


The Puget Sound basin in northwestern Washington, USA has experienced substantial land cover and climate change over the last century. Using a spatially distributed hydrology model (the Distributed Hydrology-Soil-Vegetation Model, DHSVM) the concurrent effects of changing climate (primarily temperature) and land cover in the basin are deconvolved, based on land cover maps for 1883 and 2002, and gridded climate data for 1915-2006. It is found that land cover and temperature change effects on streamflow have occurred differently at high and low elevations. In the lowlands, land cover has occurred primarily as conversion of forest to urban or partially urban land use, and here the land cover signal dominates temperature change.

In the uplands, both land cover and temperature change have played important roles. Temperature change is especially important at intermediate elevations (so-called transient snow zone), where the winter snow line is most sensitive to temperature change – notwithstanding the effects of forest harvest over the same part of the basin. Model simulations show that current land cover results in higher fall, winter and early spring streamflow but lower summer flow; higher annual maximum flow and higher annual mean streamflow compared with pre-development conditions, which is largely consistent with a trend analysis of model residuals. Land cover change effects in urban and partially urban basins have resulted in changes in annual flow, annual maximum flows, fall and summer flows. For the upland portion of the basin, shifts in the seasonal distribution of streamflows (higher spring flow and lower summer flow) are clearly related to rising temperatures, but annual streamflow has not changed much.