Simulation of climate change effects on streamflow, groundwater, and stream temperature using GSFLOW and SNTEMP in the Black Earth Creek Watershed, Wisconsin

Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5091

Prepared in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Village of Cross Plains, Village of Black Earth, Town of Black Earth, Town of Vermont, Village of Mazomanie, and City of Middleton



A groundwater/surface-water model was constructed and calibrated for the Black Earth Creek watershed in south-central Wisconsin. The model was then run to simulate scenarios representing common societal concerns in the basin, focusing on maintaining a cold-water resource in an urbanizing fringe near its upper stream reaches and minimizing downstream flooding. Although groundwater and surface water are considered a single resource, many hydrologic models simplistically simulate feedback loops between the groundwater system and other hydrologic processes. These feedbacks include timing and rates of evapotranspiration, surface runoff, soil-zone flow, and interactions with the groundwater system; however, computer models can now routinely and iteratively couple the surface-water and groundwater systems—albeit with longer model run times. In this study, preliminary calibrations of uncoupled transient surface-water and steady-state groundwater models were used to form the starting point for final calibration of one transient computer simulation that iteratively couples groundwater and surface water. The computer code GSFLOW (Groundwater/Surface-water FLOW) was used to simulate the coupled hydrologic system; a surface-water model represented hydrologic processes in the atmosphere, at land surface, and within the soil zone, and a groundwater-flow model represented the unsaturated zone, saturated zone, and streams. The coupled GSFLOW model was run on a daily time step during water years 1985–2007. Early simulation times (1985–2000) were used for spin-up to make the simulation results less sensitive to initial conditions specified; the spin-up period was not included in the model calibration. Model calibration used observed heads, streamflows, solar radiation, and snowpack measurements from 2000 to 2007 for history matching. Calibration was performed by using the PEST parameter estimation software suite.

Simulated streamflows from the calibrated GSFLOW model and other basin characteristics were used as input to the one-dimensional SNTEMP (Stream-Network TEMPerature) model. SNTEMP was used to simulate daily stream temperature in selected stream reaches in the watershed. The temperature model was calibrated to high-resolution stream temperature time-series data measured in 2005. The calibrated GSFLOW and SNTEMP models were then used to simulate effects of potential climate change for the years 2010 through 2100. An ensemble of climate models and emission scenarios was evaluated. Downscaled climate drivers for the simulation period showed increases in maximum and minimum air temperature. Scenarios of future precipitation, however, did not show a monotonic trend like temperature. Uncertainty in the climate drivers increased with time for both temperature and precipitation.

Forecasts of potential climate change scenarios showed growing season length increasing by weeks, and both potential and actual evapotranspiration rates increasing appreciably, in response to increasing air temperature. Simulated actual evapotranspiration rates increased less than simulated potential evapotranspiration rates as a result of water limitation in the root zone during the summer high-evapotranspiration period. The hydrologic-system response to climate change was characterized by a reduction in the importance of the snowmelt pulse and an increase in the importance of fall and winter groundwater recharge. The less dynamic hydrologic regime is likely to result in drier soil conditions, with relatively less drying expected in groundwater-fed systems. Groundwater discharge in the current upper cold-water reaches of Black Earth Creek is expected to decrease; flooding in downstream reaches may appreciably increase. The magnitude of changes in forecasted flow and associated groundwater/surface-water interaction is dependent on the General Circulation Model and emission scenario chosen.

Potential future changes in air temperature drivers were consistently upward regardless of General Circulation Model and emission scenario selected; thus, simulated stream temperatures are forecast to increase appreciably with future climate. However, the amount of temperature increase was variable. Such uncertainty is reflected in temperature model results, along with uncertainty in the groundwater/surface-water interaction itself. The estimated increase in annual average temperature ranged from approximately 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 in the upper reaches of Black Earth Creek and 2 to 4 degrees Celsius in reaches farther downstream. As with all forecasts that rely on projections of an unknowable future, the results are best considered to approximate potential outcomes of climate change given the underlying uncertainty.

Suggested Citation

Hunt, R.J., Westenbroek, S.M., Walker, J.F., Selbig, W.R., Regan, R.S., Leaf, A.T., and Saad, D.A., 2016, Simulation of climate change effects on streamflow, groundwater, and stream temperature using GSFLOW and SNTEMP in the Black Earth Creek Watershed, Wisconsin: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5091, 117 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Site Description and Hydrologic Setting
  • GSFLOW Groundwater/Surface-Water Modeling Approach
  • SNTEMP Temperature Model Description, Construction, and Calibration
  • Climate-Change Scenario Construction
  • Results and Discussion
  • GSFLOW and SNTEMP Limitations and Assumptions
  • Summary
  • Selected References
  • Appendix 1. Black Earth Creek Groundwater Model Construction and Calibration
  • Appendix 2. Surface-Water Model Construction
  • Appendix 3. Model Calibration
  • Appendix 4. Temperature Model Construction and Calibration
  • Appendix 5. Field Data Collection (2004–2005)
  • Appendix 6. Calibration

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Simulation of climate change effects on streamflow, groundwater, and stream temperature using GSFLOW and SNTEMP in the Black Earth Creek Watershed, Wisconsin
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
Report: x, 49 p.; Appendixes: 1–6
First page:
Last page:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Black Earth Creek Watershed
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