Variability of Annual and Monthly Streamflow Droughts over the Southeastern United States
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Variability of Annual and Monthly Streamflow Droughts over the Southeastern United States

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    Understanding the patterns of streamflow drought frequency and intensity is critical in defining potential environmental and societal impacts on processes associated with surface water resources; however, analysis of these processes is often limited to the availability of data. The objective of this study is to quantify the annual and monthly variability of low flow river conditions over the Southeastern United States (US) using National Water Model (NWM) retrospective simulations (v2.1), which provide streamflow estimates at a high spatial density. The data were used to calculate sums of outflow deficit volumes at annual and monthly scales, from which the autocorrelation functions (ACF), partial autocorrelation functions (PACF) and the Hurst exponent (H) were calculated to quantify low flow patterns. The ACF/PACF approach is used for examining the seasonal and multiannual variation of extreme events, while the Hurst exponent in turn allows for classification of “process memory”, distinguishing multi-seasonal processes from white noise processes. The results showed diverse spatial and temporal patterns of low flow occurrence across the Southeast US study area, with some locations indicating a strong seasonal dependence. These locations are characterized by a longer temporal cycle, whereby low flows were arranged in series of several to dozens of years, after which they did not occur for a period of similar length. In these rivers, H was in the range 0.8 (+/−0.15), which implies a stronger relation with groundwater during dry periods. In other river segments within the study region the probability of low flows appeared random, determined by H oscillating around the values for white noise (0.5 +/−0.15). The initial assessment of spatial clusters of the low flow parameters suggests no strict relationships, although a link to geologic characteristics and aquifer depth was noticed. At monthly scales, low flow occurrence followed precipitation patterns, with streamflow droughts first occurring in the Carolinas and along the Gulf Coast around May and then progressing upstream, reaching maxima around October for central parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The relations for both annual and monthly scales are better represented with PACF, for which statistically significant lags were found in around 75% of stream nodes, while ACF explains on average only 20% of cases, indicating that streamflow droughts in the region occur in regular patterns (e.g., seasonal). This repeatability is of greater importance to defining patterns of extreme hydrologic events than the occurrence of high magnitude random events. The results of the research provide useful information about the spatial and temporal patterns of low flow occurrence across the Southeast US, and verify that the NWM retrospective data are able to differentiate the time processes for the occurrence of low flows.
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    Water, 14(23), 3848
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    CC BY
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