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Principal components of thermal regimes in mountain river networks



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Hydrology and Earth Systems Sciences. 22: 6225-6240.


Description of thermal regimes in flowing waters is key to understanding physical processes, enhancing predictive abilities, and improving bioassessments. Spatially and temporally sparse data sets, especially in logistically challenging mountain environments, have limited studies on thermal regimes, but inexpensive sensors coupled with crowd-sourced data collection efforts provide efficient means of developing large data sets for robust analyses. Here, thermal regimes are assessed using annual monitoring records compiled from several natural resource agencies in the northwestern United States that spanned a 5-year period (2011-2015) at 226 sites across several contiguous montane river networks. Regimes were summarized with 28 metrics and principal component analysis (PCA) was used to determine those metrics which best explained thermal variation on a reduced set of orthogonal axes. Four principal components (PC) accounted for 93.4% of the variation in the temperature metrics, with the first PC (49% of variance) associated with metrics that represented magnitude and variability and the second PC (29% of variance) associated with metrics representing the length and intensity of the winter season. Another variant of PCA, T-mode analysis, was applied to daily temperature values and revealed two distinct phases of spatial variability - a homogeneous phase during winter when daily temperatures at all sites were < 3°C and a heterogeneous phase throughout the year’s remainder when variation among sites was more pronounced. Phase transitions occurred in March and November, and coincided with the abatement and onset of subzero air temperatures across the study area. S-mode PCA was conducted on the same matrix of daily temperature values after transposition and indicated that two PCs accounted for 98% of the temporal variation among sites. The first S-mode PC was responsible for 96.7% of that variance and correlated with air temperature variation (r = 0:92), whereas the second PC accounted for 1.3% of residual variance and was correlated with discharge (r = 0:84). Thermal regimes in these mountain river networks were relatively simple and responded coherently to external forcing factors, so sparse monitoring arrays and small sets of summary metrics may be adequate for their description. PCA provided a computationally efficient means of extracting key information elements from the temperature data set used here and could be applied broadly to facilitate comparisons among more diverse stream types and develop classification schemes for thermal regimes.


Isaak, Daniel J.; Luce, Charles H.; Chandler, Gwynne L.; Horan, Dona L.; Wollrab, Sherry P. 2018. Principal components of thermal regimes in mountain river networks. Hydrology and Earth Systems Sciences. 22: 6225-6240.


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