Climate trends of the North American prairie pothole region 1906-2000

Bruce Millett, W. Carter Johnson, Glenn Guntenspergen

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The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) is unique to North America. Its millions of wetlands and abundant ecosystem goods and services are highly sensitive to wide variations of temperature and precipitation in time and space characteristic of a strongly continental climate. Precipitation and temperature gradients across the PPR are orthogonal to each other. Precipitation nearly triples from west to east from approximately 300 mm/year to 900 mm/year, while mean annual temperature ranges from approximately 1°C in the north to nearly 10°C in the south. Twentieth-century weather records for 18 PPR weather stations representing 6 ecoregions revealed several trends. The climate generally has been getting warmer and wetter and the diurnal temperature range has decreased. Minimum daily temperatures warmed by 1.0°C, while maximum daily temperatures cooled by 0.15°C. Minimum temperature warmed more in winter than in summer, while maximum temperature cooled in summer and warmed in winter. Average annual precipitation increased by 49 mm or 9%. Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) trends reflected increasing moisture availability for most weather stations; however, several stations in the western Canadian Prairies recorded effectively drier conditions. The east-west moisture gradient steepened during the twentieth century with stations in the west becoming drier and stations in the east becoming wetter. If the moisture gradient continues to steepen, the area of productive wetland ecosystems will shrink. Consequences for wetlands would be especially severe if the future climate does not provide supplemental moisture to offset higher evaporative demand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-267
Number of pages25
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This work was funded by the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division (BRD) Climate Change Program and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, managed by the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), National Center for Environmental Research (NCER). STAR research supports the agency’s mission to safeguard human health and the environment. Twentieth century weather data were obtained from the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce and Environment Canada (EC) Manitoba and Arctic.


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