Streamflow characteristics in the Yukon River Basin of Alaska and Canada have changed from 1944 to 2005, and some of the change can be attributed to the two most recent modes of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Seasonal, monthly, and annual stream discharge data from 21 stations in the Yukon River Basin were analyzed for trends over the entire period of record, generally spanning 4-6 decades, and examined for differences between the two most recent modes of the PDO: cold-PDO (1944-1975) and warm-PDO (1976-2005) subsets. Between 1944 and 2005, average winter and April flow increased at 15 sites. Observed winter flow increases during the cold-PDO phase were generally limited to sites in the Upper Yukon River Basin. Positive trends in winter flow during the warm-PDO phase broadened to include stations in the Middle and Lower Yukon River drainage basins. Increases in winter streamflow most likely result from groundwater input enhanced by permafrost thawing that promotes infiltration and deeper subsurface flow paths. Increased April flow may be attributed to a combination of greater baseflow (from groundwater increases), earlier spring snowmelt and runoff, and increased winter precipitation, depending on location. Calculated deviations from long-term mean monthly discharges indicate below-average flow in the winter months during the cold PDO and above-average flow in the winter months during the warm PDO. Although not as strong a signal, results also support the reverse response during the summer months: above-average flow during the cold PDO and below-average flow during the warm PDO. Changes in the summer flows are likely an indirect consequence of the PDO, resulting from earlier spring snowmelt runoff and also perhaps increased summer infiltration and storage in a deeper active layer. Annual discharge has remained relatively unchanged in the Yukon River Basin, but a few glacier-fed rivers demonstrate positive trends, which can be attributed to enhanced glacier melting. A positive trend in annual flow during the warm PDO near the mouth of the Yukon River suggests that small increases in flow throughout the Yukon River Basin have resulted in an additive effect manifested in the downstream-most streamflow station. Many of the identified changes in streamflow patterns in the Yukon River Basin show a correlation to the PDO regime shift. This work highlights the importance of considering proximate climate forcings as well as global climate change when assessing hydrologic changes in the Arctic.
Additional publication details
Trends in streamflow in the Yukon River Basin from 1944 to 2005 and the influence of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation