Impact of Climate Change and Variability on the Nation's Water Quality andEcosystem State

EPA Grant Number: R834187
Title: Impact of Climate Change and Variability on the Nation's Water Quality andEcosystem State
Investigators: Vörösmarty, Charles J. , Clements, William , Poff, N. LeRoy , Gettel, Gretchen M. , Fekete, Balazs , Green, Mark , Wollheim, Wil
Institution: City College of the City University of New York , Colorado State University , University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2012 (Extended to September 30, 2014)
Project Amount: $799,554
RFA: Consequences of Global Change for Water Quality (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Climate Change , Watersheds , Aquatic Ecosystems , Water


To expand an existing modeling framework to integrate state-of-the-art regional climate projections with hydrology and aquatic process models, to assess how strongly forecast climate change and variability propagate through the Nation's waterways and thus alter emergence, distribution, severity, and timing of water quality problems. (ii) To evaluate the extent to which selected attributes of aquatic ecosystem state (flow-mediated habitat, habitat quality, aquatic community structure) are made vulnerable to projected regional climate change across the continental U.S. (iii) To present to agency planners a blueprint for systematic monitoring of the Nation's vulnerable and impaired waterways, identifying regions whose habitats are projected to be most at risk from the combined effects of climate and other forcings. Hypotheses associated with the first two objectives posit that the vulnerability of waterways to climate-induced impairments in water quality and aquatic ecosystem state will be dictated by changes in the extremes of hydrologic response associated with climate change (low/high flow frequencies, regime shifts) and will emerge synergistically with other non-climate stressors that will continue to affect systems well into the future.


The work will systematically address the hypotheses by uniting an interdisciplinary science team to jointly develop data sets and modules to be incorporated into an existing Framework for Aquatic Modeling of the Earth System (FrAMES). The team will design a series of numerical experiments based on multi-model ensemble climate forecasts downscaled to regional domains in the continental U.S. Assessments will then be made using models of the physical (hydrology, water temperature), biogeochemical (DO, nutrients, DOC, sediment), habitat (quantity/quality, loss, disturbance frequency), and biological endpoints (aquatic community structure) to contrast current and future conditions across the Nation's inland waterways.

Expected Results:

Given the pivotal role of water in climate, pollution management and ecosystem health, the impacts of this project are anticipated to go well beyond those of its science alone. Better understanding of national and regional-scale interactions between climate change and other environmental stressors like land use change and intensification, agricultural water policy, and hydraulic engineering, is critical for developing response strategies to the challenge of climate change. We expect to find that sensitivities to climate change in the form of more extreme temperatures, precipitation, snowmelt, and runoff events, are elicited through a cascade of physical and biotic processes, and it is insufficient to view these in isolation. This constitutes an important management principal in the context of a changing climate system, which will be shared with decision makers as a product of our work.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 69 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 12 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

regionalization, national, climate change and variability, hydrology, ecosystem, aquatic habitat, indicators, water quality, risk assessment, climate models,, RFA, Air, climate change, environmental monitoring, water resources, watershed, modeling

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2010 Progress Report
  • 2011 Progress Report
  • 2012 Progress Report
  • 2013 Progress Report
  • Final Report