Hydroclimatology and Solar Explorations

Climate & Weather Representations

The hydroclimatology of some Colorado River watersheds

I know this may sound crazy at first, but I find these images easiest to process when I think of each river site as an unfolding mountain range.  The Colorado River Basin is enormous and varied in hydroclimatology, yet the most important predictive parts are not obstacles.  This information is available for anyone willing to exercise the reported content with a spreadsheet.  It is an almost ideal and very hands-on way to understand any hydrology basin’s fundamental textures.  You only have to think of the strips as seismic-stature records of these unrolling mountains of water.  😀

The USGS streamflow network [1] is a great place to start. I developed the featured stochastic strip comparisons with only excel and that data, to compare the hydroclimatologic history as interpreted for Lee’s Ferry station just below Lake Powell’s outlet in northeastern Arizona (red dot in map below) and the Animas River just above the San Juan River at Farmington near the northwest corner of New Mexico (green square east of the red dot).  And finally I’ve added a strip corresponding to the yellow square in the map to signify the Lake Fork USGS station along the Green River watershed near the Utah Wyoming border (and still within the Colorado River Basin).

You will see connections from the strip comparisons, and I helped with a few by highlighting in green the Lee’s Ferry period from 1963 through 1980 as the new lake literally filled up. One can also identify Lake Powell’s managed filling and releases since 1980 and compare to Animas and Lake Fork.  If not for Lake Powell storage, Lee’s Ferry stream flows could be expected to show high correlations to the Animas and Lake Fork flows, as the pre-1963 period also suggests.

Since [2] claims an Animas – Solar connection, I can now provisionally claim a Lake Fork – Solar, as well as a Lee’s Ferry – Solar connection.  This will challenge at least one hydro-narrative I might have seen which claimed that Lee’s Ferry flows were high in the 20th century and dropped since then due to climate change.  If I’m not mistaken, that claim is foundational to some reports.

In contrast to a climate change attribution, the amber curves featured here can be mapped to the open black squares in the preceding map.  They illustrate the main cycle period length for each stream station record.    The prominent curve is the solar cycle curve in yellow, with a clear main cycle around 11 years in length.  That is the cycle of sunspot numbers and those are positively highly correlated to the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) which reaches Earth.  That’s the very heat I attribute in [2] to fuel massive evaporation events across the oceans which ultimately circulate in a way to influence Rocky Mountain streamflows, years later.

I think a diffused version of the solar cycle can be inferred in almost any western US natural-stream, decadal-scale, monthly and/or annual resolution, FFT-testable time series one can explore within middle latitudes.  It’s useful sometimes to try this with your own favorite USGS water site.  I’ve demonstrated a start in that direction and there are equally relevant and timely contributions for solar related precipitation patterns across Europe by Sebastian Lüning and his co-authors, but it is helpful to compare the solar hydroclimatology conceptual model of [2] to additional basins and streams, especially in contrast to the VIC simulations that overlap.  VIC-based assertions about the western US, and solar hydroclimatology assertions both cannot be right.

I continue to use the Animas River gage record as a type of stochastic anchor [2].  It’s a good choice if only because, along with the Lake Fork record, it is upstream of Lee’s Ferry.  And both of those upstream stations are from different catchments.

I don’t mind repeating that one can literally see the storage capacity of Lake Powell in action over what appear to be the  wettest periods upstream in the San Juans and the other upstream mountain ranges which comprise the Southern Rockies.  So at Lee’s Ferry, management actions can be identified almost as tire tracks in the stochastic hydrological footprint at times.  But the rest seems to me to be mostly Solar, no matter how the two series of any Colorado River Basin profile are sliced and/or averaged and/or regressed.

So that’s a good point to end with yet another Colorado Streamflow Record or two, this time from Green River at Green River Utah, which has impressive flows and is separate from the Animas.  The two catchments are however relatively close, and reach into the same moisture rich quasigeostrophic atmosphere location.  Both again are upstream of Lake Powell and the Lee’s Ferry station.  For added information, I’ve also elected to plot the strips for two stations which are tributary to the first two.  Namely the previously explored Lake Fork upstream of the Green and the Animas station at Silverton, CO.  Both are higher in altitude than the more mainstream stations. The elevation of Lake Fork is over 8,000 ft and that of the Silverton gage is over 9,000 ft amsl.  I think they share the most in common, profile-wise at least.  These signatures are only taken from a small sample of the data sets from [1]. Many are available from that resource for the Colorado and adjacent basins.


As customary, several edits in real time are anticipated and this is all a draft blog work in progress


[1] USGS surface water historical information at

[2] Wallace, M.G., 2019, Application of lagged correlations between solar cycles and hydrosphere components towards sub-decadal forecasts of streamflows in the Western US.   Hydrological Sciences Journal, Oxford UK  Volume 64 Issue 2.   doi: 10.1080/02626667.2019.

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