Strategies for Restoring River Ecosystems: Sources of Variability and Uncertainty in Natural and Managed Systems

2. Sources of Climate Variability in River Ecosystems

R. L. Edmonds, R. C. Francis, N. J. Mantua, and D. L. Peterson

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569469.ch2

Abstract.—River ecosystems are naturally variable in time and space and this variability is largely determined by climate, geology, and topography. We explore how variability in climate influences rivers. Our specific goals are to discuss (1) the major natural drivers of global-scale climate; (2) variability in temperature, precipitation, and streamflow patterns and how they relate to natural climate oscillations, such as El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and Arctic Oscillation/North Atlantic Oscillation (AO/NAO); (3) how human activities influence climate variability; (4) how climate variability influences river systems; and (5) the need to account for climate variability in river restoration activities. Three regional-scale river drainages are explored in detail: the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest; the Colorado River in the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern USA; and the Kissimmee–Okeechobee–Everglades drainage in South Florida. As is true for many river drainages, humans have strongly influenced the hydrologic cycle in the three aforementioned basins through land-use practices. Clearing forests, creating urban environments, building dams, irrigating fields, and straightening rivers all contribute to hydrologic change, especially river flooding. Rates of climate change and climate variability are now being influenced by human activities. Restoring the connectivity between river channels and floodplains, and “naturalization” of flow regimes of many large river drainages could be a major management action for ameliorating changes due to increased climate variability.