Date of this Version
Geomorphology 137 (2012) 87–93; doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2010.11.011
Earlier onset of springtime weather, including earlier snowmelt, has been documented in the western United States over at least the last 50 years. Because the majority (N70%) of the water supply in the western U.S. comes from snowmelt, analysis of the declining spring snowpack (and shrinking glaciers) has important implications for the management of streamflow. The amount of water in a snowpack influences stream discharge which can also influence erosion and sediment transport by changing stream power, or the rate at which a stream can do work, such as move sediment and erode the stream bed. The focus of this work is the Wind River Range (WRR) in west-central Wyoming. Ten years of Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) snow-cover, cloud-gap-filled (CGF) map products and 30 years of discharge and meteorological station data are studied. Streamflow data from streams in WRR drainage basins show lower annual discharge and earlier snowmelt in the decade of the 2000s than in the previous three decades, though no trend of either lower streamflow or earlier snowmelt was observed within the decade of the 2000s. Results show a statistically-significant trend at the 95% confidence level (or higher) of increasing weekly maximum air temperature (for three out of the five meteorological stations studied) in the decade of the 1970s, and also for the 40-year study period as a whole. The extent of snow-cover (percent of basin covered) derived from the lowest elevation zone (2500–3000 m) of the WRR, using MODIS CGF snow-cover maps, is strongly correlated with maximum monthly discharge on 30 April, where Spearman's Rank correlation, rs,=0.89 for the decade of the 2000s. We also investigated stream power for Bull Lake Creek above Bull Lake; and found a trend (significant at the 90% confidence level) toward reduced stream power from 1970 to 2009. Observed changes in streamflow and stream power may be related to increasing weekly maximum air temperature measured during the 40-year study period, possibly contributing to a reduction in snow cover. In addition, the strong relationship between percent of basin that was snow covered, and maximum monthly streamflow indicates that MODIS snow-cover maps are useful for predicting streamflow, and can be used to improve management of water resources in the drought-prone western United States.