Predicting regime shifts in flow of the Gunnison River under changing climate conditions

W. Paul Miller, Gina M. Derosa, Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, Juan B. Valdés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Water resource management agencies have traditionally relied upon past observations of historical hydrologic records for long-term planning. This assumption of stationarity, that the past is representative of the future, may no longer be valid under changing climate conditions. The Gunnison River Basin contributes approximately 16% of the annual natural streamflow within the Upper Colorado River Basin, affecting water supply availability over the entire Colorado River Basin. Recent studies indicate that streamflow over the Gunnison River Basin, a subbasin within the Colorado River Basin, may decrease on the order of 15% through 2099. Further study has developed a methodology to statistically characterize the risk of regime shifts using observations of past streamflow through the use of a two-parameter gamma distribution. In this study, regime characteristics derived using a paleoreconstruction of streamflow over the Gunnison River Basin are compared regime characteristics developed using 112 projections of future hydrology to better understand how the frequency and duration of persistent dry and wet periods may change as the impacts of climate change are realized over the subbasin. Results indicate that under changing climate conditions, similar regime characteristics may be expected through 2039. However, between 2040 and 2099, more frequent and persistent dry regimes increase on the order of 50%. Conversely, wet regimes are expected to be shorter and less frequent than observed over the paleoclimatic record, decreasing in frequency by as much as 50%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2966-2974
Number of pages9
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Climate Change
  • Gamma Distribution
  • Gunnison River
  • Hydrology
  • Regime Shifts
  • Streamflow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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