Dataset Open Access

Simulated river flow and temperature in regulated river systems in the southeastern United States

Cheng, Yifan; Nijssen, Bart; Voisin, Nathalie; Yearsley, John

Streamflow and stream temperature are important water resources variables, and regional-scale simulations are essential for water resources management and multi-sector assessment for large regions, e.g., regional ecological assessment and power system planning. In large-scale stream temperature modeling practices, reservoir thermal stratification is mostly ignored. We have synthesized a process-based modeling approach, consisting of a series of established models, to simulate streamflow and stream temperature for a complicated river-reservoir system, which explicitly considers thermal stratification. This approach consists of a large-scale, spatially-distributed hydrological model (Variable Infiltration Capacity or VIC; Liang et al., 1994; Hamman et al., 2018), a river routing model (Model for Scale Adaptive River Transport or MOSART; Li et al., 2013), coupled to a spatially-distributed water management model (WM; Voisin et al., 2013, 2017), and a stream temperature model (River Basin Model or RBM; Yearsley, 2009; 2012) that includes a two-layer reservoir thermal stratification module (2L; Niemeyer et al., 2018). To generate this dataset, we applied this modeling approach at a temporal resolution of 1 day and a spatial resolution of 1/8º to river systems in the southeastern United States that include 271 major reservoirs. We used an ensemble of downscaled meteorological forcing data from 20 global climate models (GCM) based on RCP8.5 to simulate potential climate change impacts. This dataset includes simulated river flow and temperatures for both historical (1980-2009; 1980s) and future periods (2070-2099; 2080s). The simulations for the 1980s are based on the gridMet data set (Abatzolglou, 2013), which also forms the basis for the statistical downscaling that is applied to each of the climate models. All simulations for the 2080s are based on downscaled climate model outputs. This dataset includes streamflow and stream temperature using both unregulated and regulated model setups to quantify the impacts of reservoir regulations. The unregulated setup does not account for withdrawals and impoundments in the river system. The stream temperature in the unregulated model setups is constant in each river cross section. In the regulated setup, we explicitly considered reservoir regulation, thermal stratification, and water withdrawal. For a more detailed description of the model configuration, please see Cheng et al. (2020).


File structure and filenames: The archive includes two directories, named “streamflow/” and “stream_temperature/”, which contain model output for streamflow and stream temperature, respectively. Within each directory, subdirectories named “regulated/” and “unregulated/” contain model output for the regulated and unregulated model setups, respectively. All data files are in netCDF format and provide model outputs at a temporal resolution of 1 day and a spatial resolution of 1/8º. The unit for streamflow is m3/s and the unit for stream temperature is °C.


Files are constructed as follows:

SERC.<climate simulation>.RCP85.<model setup>.<variable>.nc


  • <climate simulation> is either ‘historical’ for the simulation that represents the 1980s or an abbreviation that indicates the climate model for the simulations that represent the 2080s. The abbreviations for the climate models are shown in column 1 in the Table below.
  • <model setup> is either ‘regulated’ or ‘unregulated’ for the regulated and unregulated model setups, respectively.
  • <variable> is either ‘streamflow’ or ‘stream_temperature’ for streamflow and stream temperature, respectively.

More details please see README.pdf

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  • Cheng, Y., N. Voisin, J. Yearsley, and B. Nijssen, 2020: Reservoirs modify river thermal regime sensitivity to climate change: a case study in the southeastern United States. Water Resources Research, doi:10.1029/2019WR025784

  • Cheng, Y., N. Voisin, J. Yearsley, and B. Nijssen, 2020: Thermal extremes in regulated river systems under climate change: an application to southeastern U.S. rivers. Environmental Research Letters, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ab8f5f

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