U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Regional Models Project Greater Drought Resilience in U.S. Southwest in Warmer Climate
Published: May 10, 2012
Posted: August 21, 2012

Getting an accurate projection of water cycle changes for the southwestern United States (SW) is becoming increasingly more urgent in light of regional drought trends and changes in the Colorado River's flow. A research team, including a DOE scientist from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, analyzed the future climate from four pairs of regional and global climate models (RCMs and GCMs). The region's water cycle is dominated by winter storms that maintain a positive annual net precipitation (precipitation minus evapotranspiration). The research team found that the regional models simulate greater transport of moisture eastward over the mountains because the air flow over the topographically complex mountains is better resolved. Under global warming, this enables the RCMs to capture a response that allows more moisture to converge on the windward side of the mountains. The analysis shows that compared to GCMs, RCMs simulate enhanced transient moisture convergence in the SW, although both robustly simulate large-scale drying due to enhanced moisture divergence by the divergent mean flow in a warmer climate. Because the RCMs with their sharper topographic relief more accurately simulate enhanced moisture convergence, they indicate that the SW is less susceptible to experience drought compared to GCMs.

Reference: Gao, Y., L. R. Leung, E. P. Salathé Jr., F. Dominguez, B. Nijssen, and D. P. Lettenmaier. 2012. "Moisture Flux Convergence in Regional and Global Climate Models: Implications for Droughts in the Southwestern United States under Climate Change," Geophysical Research Letters 39, L09711. DOI: 10.1029/2012GL051560. (Reference link)

Contact: Renu Joseph, SC-23.1, (301) 903-9237, Dorothy Koch, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0105
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)