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Projected warming portends seasonal shifts of stream temperatures in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, USA and Canada

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Climate warming is expected to increase stream temperatures in mountainous regions of western North America, yet the degree to which future climate change may influence seasonal patterns of stream temperature is uncertain. In this study, a spatially explicit statistical model framework was integrated with empirical stream temperature data (approximately four million bi-hourly recordings) and high-resolution climate and land surface data to estimate monthly stream temperatures and potential change under future climate scenarios in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, USA and Canada (72,000 km2). Moderate and extreme warming scenarios forecast increasing stream temperatures during spring, summer, and fall, with the largest increases predicted during summer (July, August, and September). Additionally, thermal regimes characteristic of current August temperatures, the warmest month of the year, may be exceeded during July and September, suggesting an earlier onset and extended duration of warm summer stream temperatures. Models estimate that the largest magnitude of temperature warming relative to current conditions may be observed during the shoulder months of winter (April and November). Summer stream temperature warming is likely to be most pronounced in glacial-fed streams where models predict the largest magnitude (> 50%) of change due to the loss of alpine glaciers. We provide the first broad-scale analysis of seasonal climate effects on spatiotemporal patterns of stream temperature in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem for better understanding climate change impacts on freshwater habitats and guiding conservation and climate adaptation strategies.

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This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under a Graduate Research Fellowship for L. Jones (Grant DGE-1313190), the US Fish and Wildlife Services, Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center. L. Jones is currently affiliated with the Alaska Center for Conservation Science, University of Alaska Anchorage. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government.

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L.A.J., C.C.M., and L.A.M. designed the study. L.A.J. and C.C.M. collected and assembled the data. L.A.J. performed analysis, modeling, and cartography; L.A.J. and C.C.M. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Leslie A. Jones.

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Jones, L.A., Muhlfeld, C.C. & Marshall, L.A. Projected warming portends seasonal shifts of stream temperatures in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, USA and Canada. Climatic Change 144, 641–655 (2017).

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