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Glacial runoff buffers drought through the 21st century---but models disagree on the details
  • Lizz Ultee,
  • Sloan Coats
Lizz Ultee
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Corresponding Author:ehultee@mit.edu

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Sloan Coats
University of Hawaii, University of Hawaii, University of Hawaii
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Global climate model projections suggest that 21st century climate change will bring significant drying in the midlatitudes. Recent glacier modeling suggests that runoff from glaciers will continue to provide substantial freshwater in many drainage basins, though the supply will generally diminish throughout the century. In the absence of dynamic glacier ice within global climate models (GCMs), a comprehensive picture of future basin-scale water availability for human and ecosystem services has been elusive. Here, we leverage the results of existing GCMs and a global glacier model to compute the effect of glacial runoff on the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), an indicator of basin-scale water availability. We find that glacial runoff tends to increase mean SPEI and reduce interannual variability, even in basins with relatively little glacier cover. However, in many basins we find inter-GCM spread comparable to the amplitude of the ensemble mean glacial effect, which suggests considerable structural uncertainty.