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Changes in Large Lake Water Level Dynamics in Response to Climate Change

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
April 13, 2022

Understanding impacts of climate change on water level fluctuations across Earth's large lakes has critical implications for commercial and recreational boating and navigation, coastal planning, and ecological function and management. A common approach to advancing this understanding is the propagation of climate change scenarios (often from global circulation models) through regional hydrological models. We find, however, that this approach does not always fully capture water supply spatiotemporal features evolving from complex relationships between hydrologic variables. Here, we present a statistical approach for projecting plausible climate-related regional water supply scenarios into localized net basin supply sequences utilizing a parametric vine copula. This approach preserves spatial and temporal correlations between hydrologic components and allows for explicit representation and manipulation of component marginal and conditional probability distributions. We demonstrate the capabilities of our new modeling framework on the Laurentian Great Lakes by coupling our copula-derived net basin supply simulations with a newly-formulated monthly lake-to-lake routing model. This coupled system projects monthly average water levels on Lake Superior, Michigan-Huron, and Erie (we omit Lake Ontario from our study due to complications associated with simulating strict regulatory controls on its outflow). We find that our new method faithfully replicates marginal and conditional probability distributions, as well as serial autocorrelation, within and among historical net basin supply sequences. We find that our new method also reproduces seasonal and interannual water level dynamics. Using readily-available climate change simulations for the Great Lakes region, we then identified two plausible, transient, water supply scenarios and propagated them through our model to understand potential impacts on future water levels. Both scenarios result in an average water level increase of <10 cm on Lake Superior and Erie, with slightly larger increases on Michigan-Huron, as well as elevated variability of monthly water levels and a shift in seasonal water level modality. Our study contributes new insights into plausible impacts of future climate change on Great Lakes water levels, and supports the application and advancement of statistical modeling tools to forecast water supplies and water levels on not just the Great Lakes, but on other large lakes around the world as well.

Alexander VanDeWeghe (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States)
Victor Lin (Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, College of Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States)
Jennani Jayaram (Department of Mathematics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Ann Arbor, MI, United States)
Research Areas
Water Resources

Great Lakes

Climate change

Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

VanDeWeghe Alexander, Lin Victor, Jayaram Jennani, Gronewold Andrew D. Changes in Large Lake Water Level Dynamics in Response to Climate Change Frontiers in Water, Volume 4, 2022. CSS22-33