Climatic Change

, Volume 120, Issue 1–2, pp 419–431 | Cite as

Modelling potential impacts of climate change on water and nitrate export from a mid-sized, semiarid watershed in the US Southwest

  • Lin Ye
  • Nancy B. Grimm


The impacts of climate change on water and nitrogen cycles in arid central Arizona (USA) were investigated by integrating the Second Generation Coupled Global Climate Model (CGCM2) and a widely used, physical process-based model, Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). With statistically downscaled daily climate data from the CGCM2 as model input, SWAT predicted increased potential evapotranspiration and decreased surface runoff, lateral flow, soil water, and groundwater recharge, which suggests serious consequences for the water cycle in this desert catchment in the future. Specifically, stream discharge is projected to decrease by 31 % in the 2020s, 47 % in the 2050s, and 56 % in the 2080s compared to the mean discharge for the base period (0.73 m3/s). A flow-duration analysis reveals that the projected reduction of stream discharge in the future is attributable to significant decreases in mid-range and low-flow conditions; however, flood peaks would show a slight increase in the future. The drier and hotter future also will decrease the rate of nitrogen mineralization in the catchment and ultimately, nitrate export from the stream. Since mean mineralization rate would decrease by 15 % in the 2020s, 28 % in the 2050s, and 35 % in the 2080s compared to the based period (9.3 g N ha−1 d−1), the combined impact of reduced catchment mineralization and reduced streamflow would predict declining nitrate export: from today’s mean value of 30 kg N/d, to 20, 15 and 12 kg N/d by the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s, respectively.


Base Period Statistical Downscaling Stream Discharge Daily Discharge Nitrate Flux 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was supported by the Sycamore Creek LTREB (NSF grant number DEB-0918262) and the Central Arizona–Phoenix LTER (DEB-0423704 and BCS-1026865), and done in part while LY was a visiting scholar at Arizona State University. We appreciate constructive comments on the manuscript by two anonymous reviewers and Benjamin Ruddell.

Supplementary material

10584_2013_827_MOESM1_ESM.doc (767 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 767 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Freshwater Ecology and Biotechnology, Institute of HydrobiologyThe Chinese Academy of SciencesWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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