Are climatic or land cover changes the dominant cause of runoff trends in the Upper Mississippi River Basin?

Chris Frans, Erkan Istanbulluoglu, Vimal Mishra, Francisco Munoz-Arriola, Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


The Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB) has experienced a remarkable agricultural extensification since the mid-1800s. Hydroclimatological monitoring in the 20th century also reveals positive annual precipitation and runoff trends in the UMRB. While several studies have proposed land use/land cover (LULC) change as the primary cause of runoff increase, little is known about the dominant controls of hydrologic change in the UMRB. We used a macroscale hydrology model to assess the hydrologic implications of climate and LULC changes between 1918 and 2007. Modeling results, corroborated with hydroclimatologic data analysis, emphasized climate change as the dominant driver of runoff change in the UMRB. At local scales, modeled annual runoff decreased (increased) by up to 9% (5%) where grasslands (forests) were replaced by croplands. Artificial field drainage amplified annual runoff by as much as 13%. These findings are critical for water and nitrogen management in the UMRB under change. Key Points Climate change is the dominant driver of positive runoff trends in the UMRB Influences of LULC on runoff increase in significance at finer spatial scales LULC has both dampened and amplified the local hydrologic response to climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1104-1110
Number of pages7
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 28 2013


  • Climate
  • LULC
  • Streamflow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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