Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name



Geography and Geosciences

Degree Program

Geography (Applied), MS

Committee Chair

Day, C. Andrew

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Mountain, Keith R.

Committee Member

Mountain, Keith R.

Committee Member

Croasdaile, Michael

Author's Keywords

climate change; snow water equivalent; colorado headwaters basin


A change in climate in the western United States has already affected and will continue to affect the onset of snow melt in many parts of the country. The effect of climate change on snow water equivalent, snowmelt runoff and total streamflow with respect to their elevation distribution is examined across the Colorado Headwaters Basin. This is a high altitude location within the Upper Colorado Basin region. The total streamflow of this region has a significant contribution from the spring season snow melt. An increase in air temperature in the Colorado Headwaters Basin over a few years will change the onset of the spring snowmelt for that season. These changes will affect many aspects of water management and utilization that the region is extremely dependent on. Snow water equivalent (SWE), mean/minimum air temperature and USGS stream gage data were collected and analyzed using Pearson correlation to assess whether warmer air temperatures corresponded to reduced snow water equivalent and streamflow discharge for each month at each station and gage in the basin at the 5% level of statistical significance. A linear regression test followed to test for trends across a 30-year time period from 1986 to 2015, followed by a series of Runs tests for stationarity which are commonly employed statistical methods in the analysis of climate and water resource time series data. As a result we see reductions in SWE and changes in snowmelt dominated streamflow timing from higher elevations. The timing, volume, and extent of mountain snowpack, and the associated snowmelt runoff, are intrinsically linked to seasonal climate variability and change. Recent observations have documented the changes in the early onset of snowmelt in the region and further indicate that the high altitude snowpacks may now be susceptible to the warming climate.

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Hydrology Commons