Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2021-94
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2021-94

  30 Nov 2021

30 Nov 2021

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESD.

Glacial runoff buffers droughts through the 21st century

Lizz Ultee1, Sloan Coats2, and Jonathan Mackay3,4 Lizz Ultee et al.
  • 1Department of Geology, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, USA
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, USA
  • 3British Geological Survey, Environmental Science Centre, Keyworth, UK
  • 4School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, UK

Abstract. Global climate model projections suggest that 21st century climate change will bring significant drying in the terrestrial 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 drought conditions in glaciated regions has been elusive. Here, we leverage the results of existing GCM simulations and a global glacier model to evaluate glacial buffering of droughts in the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI). We find that accounting for glacial runoff tends to increase multi-model ensemble mean SPEI and reduce drought frequency and severity, even in basins with relatively little glacier cover. Glacial drought buffering persists even as glacial runoff is projected to decline through the 21st century.

Lizz Ultee et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on esd-2021-94', Anonymous Referee #1, 06 Dec 2021
    • AC1: 'Brief clarifications re: RC1', Lizz Ultee, 07 Jan 2022
    • AC2: 'Response to review comments', Lizz Ultee, 26 Jan 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on esd-2021-94', Caroline Clason, 10 Dec 2021
    • AC2: 'Response to review comments', Lizz Ultee, 26 Jan 2022
  • RC3: 'Comment on esd-2021-94', Sarah Hanus, 14 Dec 2021

Lizz Ultee et al.

Lizz Ultee et al.

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Short summary
Global climate models suggest that droughts could worsen over the coming century. In mountain basins with glaciers, glacial runoff can ease droughts, but glaciers are retreating worldwide. We analyzed how one measure of drought conditions changes when accounting for glacial runoff that changes over time. Surprisingly, we found that glacial runoff can continue to buffer drought throughout the 21st century in most cases, even as the total amount of runoff declines.
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