Making Energy-Water Nexus Scenarios more Fit-for-Purpose through Better Characterization of Extremes

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 15:10
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Often quantitative scenarios of future trends exhibit less variability than the historic data upon which the models that generate them are based. The problem of dampened variability, which typically also entails dampened extremes, manifests both temporally and spatially. As a result, risk assessments that rely on such scenarios are in danger of producing misleading results. This danger is pronounced in nexus issues, because of the multiple dimensions of change that are relevant.

We illustrate the above problem by developing alternative joint distributions of the probability of drought and of human population totals, across U.S. counties over the period 2010-2030. For the dampened-extremes case we use drought frequencies derived from climate models used in the U.S. National Climate Assessment and the Environmental Protection Agency’s population and land use projections contained in its Integrated Climate and Land Use Scenarios (ICLUS). For the elevated extremes case we use an alternative spatial drought frequency estimate based on tree-ring data, covering a 555-year period (Ho et al 2017); and we introduce greater temporal and spatial extremes in the ICLUS socioeconomic projections so that they conform to observed extremes in the historical U.S. spatial census data 1790-present (National Historical Geographic Information System).

We use spatial and temporal coincidence of high population and extreme drought as a proxy for energy-water nexus risk. We compare the representation of risk in the dampened-extreme and elevated-extreme scenario analysis. We identify areas of the country where using more realistic portrayals of extremes makes the biggest difference in estimate risk and suggest implications for future risk assessments.

Michelle Ho, Upmanu Lall, Xun Sun, Edward R. Cook. 2017. Multiscale temporal variability and regional patterns in 555 years of conterminous U.S. streamflow. Water Resources Research. . doi: 10.1002/2016WR019632

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