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Natural Hazards




Devils Lake, a terminal saline lake in eastern North Dakota, has experienced catastrophic flooding over the past two decades producing direct damages in excess of $1 billion ($USD). We use three long-term datasets to examine the temporal coherence between historical lake fluctuations and basic hydroclimatic drivers. Monthly precipitation and mean monthly air temperature data are used to characterize long-term precipitation delivery and evaporative demand. Monthly water balance data for a representative location are used to assess basin soil moisture conditions. A lake volume time series documents lake volume fluctuation in response to long-term precipitation and regional soil moisture conditions. Three variables are derived from the datasets, each characterizing a different aspect of the region’s hydroclimatology. A rescaling technique is applied to each variable to examine the temporal coherence and relative patterns of the variables and to identify distinct homogeneous hydroclimatic regimes during the historical period. The three rescaled variables show strong temporal coherence and confirm 1980 as an abrupt transition year between two distinct long-term hydroclimatic modes. Mode 1, a longer and drier phase, runs from 1907 to 1980, while mode 2, a shorter and wetter phase, extends from 1981 to the present. Multi-decadal and century-scale fluctuations between these two modes are the key drivers of long-term lake volume fluctuations, upon which interannual- and interdecadal-scale climatic variability are superimposed. The similar rates of change among the rescaled variables provides evidence in support of the conclusion that long-term natural hydroclimatological variability is the primary driver of observed lake volume changes at Devils Lake during the Twentieth Century and provides a foundation upon which to evaluate the potential contributing effects of anthropogenic climate change, and human alterations of the land use hydrology.



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This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Natural Hazards. The final authenticated version is available online at:

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