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Evaluating Effect of Climate Change on River Flows in the Clinch River Basin

A new project by the U.S. Geological Survey is evaluating the potential cascading effects to river flows and quality aquatic habitat due to changes in climate within an ecologically important area of the Appalachian LCC. A greater understanding of likely flow changes within the Virginia portion of the Clinch River Basin will allow managers to better respond to alterations and degradation of physical habitat. Information and results from this study will also provide managers with methods to be applied throughout the Appalachian LCC region. (Photo by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries)

Stream discharge, water temperature, and land use are crucial to shaping the habitat available for aquatic species in the Clinch River Basin. The Basin is located in the Central Appalachians, has a drainage area over 800,000 acres and been identified as the number one hotspot for imperiled aquatic species in the U.S. The Clinch River sustains 48 imperiled and vulnerable animal species, including 29 varieties of rare freshwater mussels and 19 species of fish, according to The Nature Conservancy. Fundamental changes in climate could alter ecologically sound flows and further threaten imperiled species.

USGS researchers are evaluating relevant models of river flows and using downscaled climate data to develop an understanding of likely changes to river ecosystems. This will include in-depth modeling of large datasets on climate, streamflow, and water availability representing nearly 200 years of historic and future scenarios. Final deliverables from the project will supply managers with vital information to better plan for water withdrawals and to sustainably manage critical habitat.

Virginia portion of the Clinch River Basin
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