• Snowmelt hydrology in the upper Kuparuk watershed, Alaska: observations and modeling

      Dean, Kelsey M.; Stuefer, Svetlana; Verbyla, David; Schnabel, William (2019-08)
      The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report (2018) indicates that Alaska has been warming at a rate two times greater than the global average with the Arctic continuing to be experiencing higher rates of warming. Snowmelt driven runoff is the largest hydrologic event of the year in many Alaska Arctic river systems. Changes to air temperature, permafrost, and snow cover impact the timing and magnitude of snowmelt runoff. This thesis examines the variability in hydrometeorological variables associated with snowmelt to better understand the timing and magnitude of snowmelt runoff in headwater streams of Arctic Alaska. The objectives of this thesis are to: (1) use observational data to evaluate trends in air temperature, precipitation, snow accumulation, and snowmelt runoff data; (2) relate precipitation, snow cover, and air temperature to snowmelt runoff using the physically-based Snowmelt Runoff Model (SRM) to test the applicability of the model for headwater streams in the Arctic. The focus of this study is the Upper Kuparuk watershed area, located in Alaska on the north side of the Brooks Range, where several monitoring programs have operated long enough to generate a 20-year climate record, 1993-2017. Long-term air temperature, precipitation, and streamflow data collected by the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the Water and Environmental Research Center and other agencies were used for statistical analysis and modeling. While no statistically significant trends in snow accumulation and snowmelt runoff were identified during 1993-2017, observations highlight large year-to-year variability and include extreme years. Snow water equivalent ranges from 5.4 to 17.6 cm (average 11.0 cm), peak snowmelt runoff ranges from 3.84 to 50.0 cms (average 22.4 cms), and snowmelt peak occurrence date ranges from May 13 to June 5 for the Upper Kuparuk period of record. The spring of 2015 stands out as the warmest, snowiest year on record in the Upper Kuparuk. To further investigate the runoff response to snowmelt in 2015, remote sensing snow data was analyzed and recommended parameters were developed for SRM use in the Upper Kuparuk watershed. Recommended parameters were then applied to 2013 snowmelt runoff as a test year. Model results varied between the two years and provide good first-order approximation of snowmelt runoff for headwater rivers in the Alaska Arctic.