The relation between mean annual temperature (MAT), mean annual precipitation (MAP) and evapotranspiration (ET) for 38 forested watersheds was determined to evaluate the potential increase in ET and resulting decrease in stream runoff that could occur following climate change and lengthening of the growing season. The watersheds were all predominantly forested and were located in eastern North America, along a gradient in MAT from 3.5??C in New Brunswick, CA, to 19.8??C in northern Florida. Regression analysis for MAT versus ET indicated that along this gradient ET increased at a rate of 2.85 cm??C-1 increase in MAT (??0.96 cm??C-1, 95% confidence limits). General circulation models (GCM) using current mid-range emission scenarios project global MAT to increase by about 3??C during the 21st century. The inferred, potential, reduction in annual runoff associated with a 3??C increase in MAT for a representative small coastal basin and an inland mountainous basin in New England would be 11-13%. Percentage reductions in average daily runoff could be substantially larger during the months of lowest flows (July-September). The largest absolute reductions in runoff are likely to be during April and May with smaller reduction in the fall. This seasonal pattern of reduction in runoff is consistent with lengthening of the growing season and an increase in the ratio of rain to snow. Future increases in water use efficiency (WUE), precipitation, and cloudiness could mitigate part or all of this reduction in runoff but the full effects of changing climate on WUE remain quite uncertain as do future trends in precipitation and cloudiness.
Additional publication details
Climate warming could reduce runoff significantly in New England, USA