We developed Columbia River streamflow reconstructions using a network of existing, new, and updated tree-ring records sensitive to the main climatic factors governing discharge. Reconstruction quality is enhanced by incorporating tree-ring chronologies where high snowpack limits growth, which better represent the contribution of cool-season precipitation to flow than chronologies from trees positively sensitive to hydroclimate alone. The best performing reconstruction (back to 1609 CE) explains 59% of the historical variability and the longest reconstruction (back to 1502 CE) explains 52% of the variability. Droughts similar to the high-intensity, long-duration low flows observed during the 1920s and 1940s are rare, but occurred in the early 1500s and 1630s-1640s. The lowest Columbia flow events appear to be reflected in chronologies both positively and negatively related to streamflow, implying low snowpack and possibly low warm-season precipitation. High flows of magnitudes observed in the instrumental record appear to have been relatively common, and high flows from the 1680s to 1740s exceeded the magnitude and duration of observed wet periods in the late-19th and 20th Century. Comparisons between the Columbia River reconstructions and future projections of streamflow derived from global climate and hydrologic models show the potential for increased hydrologic variability, which could present challenges for managing water in the face of competing demands.
Littell, J.S., G.T. Pederson, S.T. Gray, M. Tjoelker, A.F. Hamlet, and C. Woodhouse. 2016. Reconstructions of Columbia River streamflow from tree ring chronologies in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Journal of the American Water Resources Association. 52(5): 1121-1141. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1752-1688.12442/abstract. DOI: doi: 10.1111/1752-1688.12442.