3B.4 Looking for analogues of future drought in the northern Chihuahuan Desert

Monday, 18 July 2011: 4:15 PM
Swannanoa (Asheville Renaissance)
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; and D. B. McRoberts

Drought is the primary extreme event stressor for ecological networks in and along streams and watercourses in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. For purposes of ecosystem management and restoration, it is useful to understand whether future droughts will be fundamentally different from past droughts in the area, and thus possibly be beyond the native ability to adapt.

We begin by examining the historical metadata for climate stations in far west Texas and southern New Mexico. Station moves or inhomogeneities that might be expected to affect temperatures or precipitation are identified, and a relative estimate of severity is estimated. Throughout the region, precipitation data appears to be much more consistent than temperature data. Using the most consistent stations, we compare season-mean temperatures and precipitation for the cold and warm seasons and identify the relationship between temperature and precipitation. We then use climate simulations to infer changes in temperature and precipitation under future scenarios. We find that precipitation projections lie within the realm of past precipitation, but that temperature changes are so large that future droughts will excessively warm compared to past droughts. No useful historical analogues are available.

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