Resolution matters when modeling climate change in headwaters of the Colorado River

Lauren M. Foster, Kenneth H. Williams, Reed M. Maxwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The continued growth of Southwestern cities depends on reliable water export from Rocky Mountain headwaters, which provide ~85% of Colorado River Basin (CRB) streamflow. Despite being more sensitive to warming temperatures, alpine systems are simplified in the regional-scale models currently in use to plan for future water supply. We used an integrated hydrologic model that couples groundwater and surface water with snow and vegetation processes to examine the effect of topographic simplifications as a result of grid coarsening in a representative CRB headwater basin. High-resolution (100 m) simulations predicted headwater streamflow losses of 16% by 2050 while coarse-resolution (1 km) simulations predict only 12%, suggesting that regional-scale models (coarser than 1 km) likely overestimate future Colorado River Basin water supplies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104031
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • Climate change
  • Colorado river
  • Headwater hydrology
  • Integrated modeling
  • Resolution


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