The ecosystems of the San Francisco Bay estuary are influenced by the salinity of its waters, which in turn depends on flushing by freshwater inflows from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Estimates of full-natural flows in eight major rivers that flush the Bay are analyzed here by extended empirical-orthogonal-function analyses to characterize distinct ‘modes’ of seasonal flow and runoff variability. These modes provide a clear identification of the seasons in which the various rivers respond to hydroclimatic forcings and the seasons during which the rivers most strongly affect San Francisco Bay salinities. About 60 percent of the runoff variability is shared by the rivers over the course of a year but season-to-season differences among the rivers are more subtly distributed. Autumn and winter streamflows respond directly to concurrent (autumn and winter) precipitation and temperatures. Autumn and winter salinities are dominated by these flows, which in each season reflect mostly variations in flows from the central Sierra Nevada and the large Sacramento River. In contrast, spring runoff-rate and streamflow modes are functions of precipitation and temperature during the entire wet (winter and spring) season and are dominated by rivers of the central and southern Sierra Nevada. In turn, the critical spring salinities depend most on the streamflow fluctuations in those central and southern rivers.
Additional publication details
Interseasonal covariability of Sierra Nevada streamflow and San Francisco Bay salinity