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Human-Induced Changes in the Hydrology of the Western United States

31 January 2008

Tim P. Barnett,1* David W. Pierce,1 Hugo G. Hidalgo,1 Celine Bonfils,2 Benjamin D. Santer,2 Tapash Das,1 Govindasamy Bala,2 Andrew W. Wood,3 Toru Nozawa,4 Arthur A. Mirin,2 Daniel R. Cayan,1,5 Michael D. Dettinger1,5

Observations have shown that the hydrological cycle of the western United States changed significantly over the last half of the 20th century. We present a regional, multivariable climate change detection and attribution study, using a high-resolution hydrologic model forced by global climate models, focusing on the changes that have already affected this primarily arid region with a large and growing population. The results show that up to 60% of the climate-related trends of river flow, winter air temperature, and snow pack between 1950 and 1999 are human-induced. These results are robust to perturbation of study variates and methods. They portend, in conjunction with previous work, a coming crisis in water supply for the western United States.