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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Dynamical downscaling-based projections of Great Lakes' water levels


Michael Notaro

Val Bennington

Brent Lofgren

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
Journal of Climate


Projections of regional climate, net basin supply (NBS), and water levels are developed for the mid- and late 21st century across the Laurentian Great Lakes Basin. Two state-of-the-art global climate models (GCMs) are dynamically downscaled using a regional climate model (RCM), interactively coupled to a one-dimensional lake model, and then a hydrologic routing model is forced with time series of perturbed NBS. The dynamical downscaling and coupling with a lake model to represent the Great Lakes create added value beyond the parent GCM in terms of simulated seasonal cycles of temperature, precipitation, and surface fluxes. However, limitations related to this rudimentary treatment of the Great Lakes result in warm summer biases in lake temperatures, excessive ice cover, and an abnormally early peak in lake evaporation. While the downscaling of both GCMs led to consistent projections of increases in annual air temperature, precipitation, and all NBS components (over-lake precipitation, basin-wide runoff, and lake evaporation), the resulting projected water level trends are opposite in sign. Clearly, it is not sufficient to correctly simulate the signs of the projected change in each NBS component but also their relative magnitudes. The potential risk of more frequent episodes of lake levels below the low water datum, a critical shipping threshold, is explored.