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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 17, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 1681–1691, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-17-1681-2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 1681–1691, 2013
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-17-1681-2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 02 May 2013

Research article | 02 May 2013

Streamflow input to Lake Athabasca, Canada

K. Rasouli1, M. A. Hernández-Henríquez2, and S. J. Déry2 K. Rasouli et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave W., Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada
  • 2Environmental Science and Engineering Program, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC, V2N 4Z9, Canada

Abstract. The Lake Athabasca drainage area in northern Canada encompasses ecologically rich and sensitive ecosystems, vast forests, glacier-clad mountains, and abundant oil reserves in the form of oil sands. The basin includes the Peace–Athabasca Delta, recognized internationally by UNESCO and the Ramsar Convention as a biologically rich inland delta and wetland that are now under increasing pressure from multiple stressors. In this study, streamflow variability and trends for rivers feeding Lake Athabasca are investigated over the last half century. Hydrological regimes and trends are established using a robust regime shift detection method and the Mann–Kendall (MK) test, respectively. Results show that the Athabasca River, which is the main contributor to the total lake inflow, experienced marked declines in recent decades impacting lake levels and its ecosystem. From 1960 to 2010 there was a significant reduction in lake inflow and a significant recession in the Lake Athabasca level. Our trend analysis corroborates a previous study using proxy data obtained from nearby sediment cores suggesting that the lake level may drop 2 to 3 m by 2100. The lake recession may threaten the flora and fauna of the Athabasca Lake basin and negatively impact the ecological cycle of an inland freshwater delta and wetland of global importance.

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