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Climate Change Science

Research and outreach in climate change science

Water resources depend on multiple interacting climate factors, including air temperature and the timing and quantity of snow, rainfall, and evaporation.  NYSWRI has funded and engaged in a number of projects addressing issues related to climate change.   More broadly, our work in flooding and stream restoration address climate change concerns, as does our work on infrastructure.  Here we highlight several projects specifically engaged in climate change science.

Education and Outreach

Steve Stanne, Extension Associate with WRI-HREP has been working with Nordica Holochuck of New York Sea Grant to review high-quality climate change lessons available online. They selected about ten to adapt for use in the Hudson Valley, using place-based illustrations, examples, and case studies. Classroom teachers and a science curriculum specialist reviewed the chosen lessons. Hudson River Lesson Plans are available through the Estuary Program’s education web pages.

Long Island Aquifers

Yuri Gorokhovich, a professor at Lehmann College Long Island will use MODFLOW to develop a groundwater model of Long Island aquifers that will be used to simulate the impact of climate change on groundwater capacity.  These aquifers are the main supply of portable water in the region, and any reduction in their capacity would have important social, political, and economic ramifications. Modeling groundwater on the Long-Island-wide scale is important for generating predictions in changes in aquifer storage capacity due to changes in precipitation, evaporation and sea level rise.

New York State Climaid Report

Hurricane Lee
Road damage from Hurricane Lee in Glenville, NY (Image: Peter Barber)

NYSWRI staff and associated faculty were lead authors of the Water Resource chapter of the NYSERDA funded report “Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID)”. Potential vulnerabilities for water resources and related infrastructure that were identified include flooding, increase in duration and/or frequency of dry periods affecting drinking water supplies in systems with low storage relative to demand, changes in demand for commercial and agricultural water related in part to climate-related factors, and declines in water quality due to higher water temperatures and decreased stream flows in summer.  Examples of adaptation strategies to flooding include 1) development of cost-effective storm water management infrastructure that enhances natural hydrologic processes (infiltration into soils, recharging groundwater, evaporation) and slows the movement of storm water instead of rapidly conveying it to waterbodies, and 2) consideration of phased withdrawal of infrastructure from high-risk, floodprone areas. For water supplies, adaptation strategies include establishment of guidelines for systematic management of water supplies under drought and implementation of an automatic gauging and reporting network to provide improved early-warning systems for supply shortages. For non-potable water supplies, the chapter suggests mechanisms for better coordination of water use in shared water bodies, the development of a public online system for tracing water usage across the state, establishment of minimum flow requirements for water withdrawals, and the preparation of a statewide water plan.

Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in Scotia, NY (Image: Will Waldron)

Controls on Evapotranspiration, Peak Stream Flow Events and Intense Rainfall

Steve Shaw, a professor at SUNY-ESF and former research associate with NYSWRI and Susan Riha, professor at Cornell and Director of NTS WRI, investigated the relationship of key components of the hydrologic cycle to temperature and precipitation. Because temperature is not the fundamental driver of evapotranspiration (ET) and because the relationship between temperature and net radiation underlying temperature-based equations will shift with climate change, they recommend using radiation based equations of ET in application models being used to predict the impacts of climate change. In another study using 50-plus years of historical discharge and meteorological data from three watersheds in different physiographic regions of New York , they found that annual maximum rainfall events were associated with annual maximum stream discharges fewer than one in five years. Approximately 20% of annual maximum stream discharges were associated with annual maximum snowmelt events while 60% of annual maximum discharges were associated with moderate rainfall amounts and very wet soil conditions. They suggest a case can be made that not all water bodies in humid, cold regions will see extensive changes in flooding due to increased rainfall intensities. In a third study, using historical precipitation records from the coastal northeast, interior New York, the central plains, and the western plains, they evaluated whether high-intensity precipitation scales with temperature in accordance with the Clausius–Clapeyron (C–C) relationship. Overall, the C–C relationship does not appear to constrain extreme precipitation in all regions and in all seasons, and its ability to aid in constraining future predictions of extreme precipitation may only be relevant to certain locales and time periods.