Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 7503
Title: Rethinking the longitudinal stream temperature paradigm: region-wide comparison of thermal infrared imagery reveals unexpected complexity of river temperatures
Author: A. H. Fullerton, C. E. Torgersen, Josh J. Lawler, Russ N. Faux, E. Ashley Steel, T. J. Beechie, J. L. Ebersole, Scott G. Leibowitz
Publication Year: 2015
Journal: Hydrological Processes
Volume: 29
Issue: 22
Pages: 4719-4737
Keywords: water temperature,thermal infrared,remote sensing,longitudinal profile,regional pattern,climate change

Prevailing theory suggests that stream temperature warms asymptotically in a downstream direction, beginning at the temperature of the source in the headwaters and leveling off downstream as it converges to match meteorological conditions. However, there have been few empirical examples of longitudinal patterns of temperature in large rivers due to a paucity of data. We constructed longitudinal thermal profiles (temperature versus distance) for 53 rivers in the Pacific Northwest (USA) using an extensive dataset of remotely sensed summertime river temperatures and classified each profile into one of five patterns of downstream warming: asymptotic (increasing then flattening), linear (increasing steadily), uniform (not changing), parabolic (increasing then decreasing), or complex (not fitting other classes). We evaluated (1) how frequently profiles warmed asymptotically downstream as expected, and (2) whether relationships between river temperature and common hydroclimatic variables differed by profile class. We found considerable diversity in profile shape, with 47% of rivers warming asymptotically, and 53% having alternative profile shapes. Water temperature did not warm substantially over the course of the river for coastal parabolic and uniform profiles, and for some linear and complex profiles. Profile classes showed no clear geographical trends. The degree of correlation between river temperature and hydroclimatic variables differed among profile classes, but there was overlap among classes. Water temperature in rivers with asymptotic or parabolic profiles was positively correlated with August air temperature, tributary temperature and velocity, and negatively correlated with elevation, August precipitation, gradient, and distance upstream. Conversely, associations were less apparent in rivers with linear, uniform, or complex profiles. Factors contributing to the unique shape of parabolic profiles differed for coastal and inland rivers, where downstream cooling was influenced locally by climate or cool water inputs, respectively. Potential drivers of shape for complex profiles were specific to each river. These thermal patterns indicate diverse thermal habitats that may promote resilience of aquatic biota to climate change. Without this spatial context, climate change models may incorrectly estimate loss of thermally suitable habitat.



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Theme: Habitats to Support Sustainable Fisheries and Recovered Populations
Foci: Characterize relationships between habitat and ecosystem processes, climate variation, and the viability of organisms.