A physically-based model of global freshwater surface temperature

L.P.H. van Beek, T. Eikelboom, M.T.H. van Vliet, M.F.P. Bierkens

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Temperature determines a range of physical properties of water and exerts a strong control on surface water biogeochemistry. Thus, in freshwater ecosystems the thermal regime directly affects the geographical distribution of aquatic species through their growth and metabolism and indirectly through their tolerance to parasites and diseases. Models used to predict surface water temperature range between physically based deterministic models and statistical approaches. Here we present the initial results of a physically based deterministic model of global freshwater surface temperature. The model adds a surface water energy balance to river discharge modeled by the global hydrological model PCR-GLOBWB. In addition to advection of energy from direct precipitation, runoff, and lateral exchange along the drainage network, energy is exchanged between the water body and the atmosphere by shortwave and longwave radiation and sensible and latent heat fluxes. Also included are ice formation and its effect on heat storage and river hydraulics. We use the coupled surface water and energy balance model to simulate global freshwater surface temperature at daily time steps with a spatial resolution of 0.5° on a regular grid for the period 1976-2000. We opt to parameterize the model with globally available data and apply it without calibration in order to preserve its physical basis with the outlook of evaluating the effects of atmospheric warming on freshwater surface temperature. We validate our simulation results with daily temperature data from rivers and lakes (U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), limited to the USA) and compare mean monthly temperatures with those recorded in the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) data set. Results show that the model is able to capture the mean monthly surface temperature for the majority of the GEMS stations, while the interannual variability as derived from the USGS and NOAA data was captured reasonably well. Results are poorest for the Arctic rivers because the timing of ice breakup is predicted too late in the year due to the lack of including a mechanical breakup mechanism. Moreover, surface water temperatures for tropical rivers were overestimated, most likely due to an overestimation of rainfall temperature and incoming shortwave radiation. The spatiotemporal variation of water temperature reveals large temperature differences between water and atmosphere for the higher latitudes, while considerable lateral transport of heat can be observed for rivers crossing hydroclimatic zones, such as the Nile, the Mississippi, and the large rivers flowing to the Arctic. Overall, our model results show promise for future projection of global surface freshwater temperature under global change. © 2012. American Geophysical Union.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)W09530
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number9
Early online date19 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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