Nonlinear trends in signatures characterizing non-perennial US streams


Stream drying patterns – including duration, timing, and dry-down rates – affect aquatic ecosystems and nutrient exports in non-perennial streams. Because hydrologic processes are often nonlinear, changes in drying may also be nonlinear, but analyses of historical changes in stream drying to date have not characterized the frequency or functional forms of nonlinear change. Understanding the extent of nonlinear change in non-perennial streams is essential for advancing our fundamental knowledge of hydrological processes, aquatic ecosystems, and watershed functioning under a warming climate. This paper uses a polynomial-based trend detection technique (PolyTrend) to analyze the linear and nonlinear trend behaviors of three intermittency signatures (annual no-flow days specifying longer or shorter drying duration, day of first no-flow occurrence specifying timing of stream drying, and days from peak to no-flow specifying dry-down rates) at 540 non-perennial gage stations over 38 years (1980–2017) across the continental United States (CONUS). Additionally, we carried out a breakpoint analysis to characterize the discontinuities in the time series of each intermittency signature. Analysis of annual no-flow days shows that about 37% of the total streamflow stations are drying for longer each year, whereas about 22% are wetter for longer than in the past. The day of first no-flow occurrence analysis shows that 10% of the streams are drying earlier, and 19% are drying later. On the other hand, analysis of days from peak to no-flow shows that 14% of streams are drying faster, and 17% are drying more slowly. For all these metrics, among the significant trends, at least half of the relationships were nonlinear. For annual no-flow days, the breakpoint analysis shows more discontinuities in the second half of the analysis period (1999 to 2017) than in the first half, with more discontinuities in the Southern Great Plains than in other regions. The other two signatures demonstrate less frequent discontinuities in the second half of the analysis period, suggesting decreased nonlinear dynamics in recent years. Nonlinear no-flow duration trends are common in Mediterranean California, and the dry-down rate has increased in recent decades. Our findings indicate that nonlinear change in stream drying is widespread and must be accounted for in watershed planning and management.

Journal of Hydrology
Sam Zipper
HEAL PI; Assistant Scientist/Professor

I specialize in ecohydrology and hydrogeology of agricultural and urban landscapes.