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Theses and Dissertations--Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Anthropogenic activities including urbanization, rapid industrialization, deforestation and burning of fossil fuels are broadly agreed on as primary causes for ongoing climate change. Scientists agree that climate change over the next century will continue to impact water resources with serious implications including storm surge flooding and a sea level rise projected for North America. To date, the majority of climate change studies conducted across the globe have been for large-sized watersheds; more attention is required to assess the impact of climate change on smaller watersheds, which can help to better frame sustainable water management strategies.

In the first of three studies described in this dissertation, trends in annual precipitation and air-temperature across the Commonwealth of Kentucky were evaluated using the non-parametric Mann-Kendall test considering meteorological time series data from 84 weather stations. Results indicated that while annual precipitation and mean annual temperature have been stable for most of Kentucky over the period 1950-2010, there is evidence of increases (averages of 4.1 mm/year increase in annual precipitation and 0.01 °C/year in mean annual temperature) along the borders of the Kentucky. Considered in its totality, available information indicates that climate change will occur – indeed, it is occurring – and while much of the state might not clearly indicate it at present, Kentucky will almost certainly not be exempt from its effects. Spatial analysis of the trend results indicated that eastern part of the state, which is characterized by relatively high elevations, has been experiencing decreasing trends in precipitation.

In the second study, trends and variability of seven extreme precipitation indices (total precipitation on wet days, PRCPTOT; maximum length of dry and wet periods, CDD and CWD, respectively; number of days with precipitation depth ≥20 mm, R20mm; maximum five-day precipitation depth, RX5day; simple daily precipitation intensity, SDII; and standardized precipitation index, SPI were analyzed for the Kentucky River Basin for both baseline period of 1986-2015 and the late-century time frame of 2070-2099. For the baseline period, the majority of the indices demonstrated increasing trends; however, statistically significant trends were found for only ~11% of station-index combinations of the 16 weather stations considered. Projected magnitudes for PRCPTOT, CDD, CWD, RX5day and SPI, indices associated with the macroweather regime, demonstrated general consistency with trends previously identified and indicated modest increases in PRCPTOT and CWD, slight decreases in CDD, mixed results for RX5day, and increased non-drought years in the late century relative to the baseline period. The study’s findings indicate that future conditions might be characterized by more rainy days but fewer large rainfall events; this might lead to a scenario of increased average annual rainfall but, at the same time, increased water scarcity during times of maximum demand.

In the third and final study, the potential impact of climate change on hydrologic processes and droughts over the Kentucky River basin was studied using the watershed model Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). The SWAT model was successfully calibrated and validated and then forced with forecasted precipitation and temperature outputs from a suite of CMIP5 global climate model (GCMs) corresponding to two different representative concentration pathways (RCP 4.5 and 8.5) for two time periods: 2036-2065 and 2070-2099, referred to as mid-century and late-century, respectively. Climate projections indicate that there will be modest increases in average annual precipitation and temperature in the future compared to the baseline (1976-2005) period. Monthly variations of water yield and surface runoff demonstrated an increasing trend in spring and autumn, while winter months are projected as having decreasing trends. In general, maximum drought length is expected to increase, while drought intensity might decrease under future climatic conditions. Hydrological droughts (reflective of water availability), however, are predicted to be less intense but more persistent than meteorological droughts (which are more reflective of only meteorological variables). Results of this study could be helpful for preparing any climate change adaptation plan to ensure sustainable water resources in the Kentucky River Basin.


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