Comparing CMIP-3 and CMIP-5 climate projections on flooding estimation of Devils Lake of North Dakota, USA

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Background: Water level fluctuations in endorheic lakes are highly susceptible to even slight changes in climate and land use. Devils Lake (DL) in North Dakota, USA is an endorheic system that has undergone multi-decade flooding driven by changes in regional climate. Flooding mitigation strategies have centered on the release of lake water to a nearby river system through artificial outlets, resulting in legal challenges and environmental concerns related to water quality, downstream flooding, species migration, stakeholder opposition, and transboundary water conflicts between the US and Canada. Despite these drawbacks, running outlets would result in low overspill risks in the next 30 years. Methods: In this study we evaluated the efficacy of this outlet-based mitigation strategy under scenarios based on the latest IPCC future climate projections. We used the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project CMIP-5 weather patterns from 17 general circulation models (GCMs) obtained under four representative concentration pathways (RCP) scenarios and downscaled to the DL region. Then, we simulated the changes in lake water levels using the soil and water assessment tool based hydrological model of the watershed. We estimated the probability of future flood risks under those scenarios and compared those with previously estimated overspill risks under the CMIP-3 climate. Results: The CMIP-5 ensemble projected a mean annual temperature of 5.78 ° C and mean daily precipitation of 1.42 mm/day; both are higher than the existing CMIP-3 future estimates of 4.98 ° C and 1.40 mm/day, respectively. The increased precipitation and higher temperature resulted in a significant increase of DL's overspill risks: 24.4-47.1% without release from outlets and 3.5-14.4% even if the outlets are operated at their combined full 17 m3/s capacity. Discussion: The modeled increases in overspill risks indicate a greater frequency of water releases through the artificial outlets. Future risk mitigation management should include providing a flood warning signal to local resource managers, and tasking policy makers to identify additional solution measures such as land use management in the upper watershed to mitigate DL's flooding.




Kharel, G., & Kirilenko, A. (2018). Comparing CMIP-3 and CMIP-5 climate projections on flooding estimation of Devils Lake of North Dakota, USA. PeerJ, 2018(4).

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