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Yukon River Basin Streamflow Forecasting System




Elshamy, Mohamed
Loukili, Youssef
Princz, Daniel
Richard, Dominique
Tesemma, Zelalem
Pomeroy, John W.

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Centre for Hydrology, University Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan



Technical Report

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The Yukon River Basin is one of the main rivers in the Arctic region of North America and is shared between Canada and the US. The Canadian part covers almost half of the Yukon Territory in addition to a small portion of the province of British Columbia, while the US part falls totally within the state of Alaska. This study is concerned with Canadian part of the Yukon River with its outlet at Eagle, just across the border in Alaska. Small parts of this catchment are in Alaska. This basin has an area of 288,000 km2, from 58.8 – 65.6°N and 129.2 – 134.1°W. The southern part of the basin is characterized by large glaciers at high elevations (up to 4700 m above sea level) with steep slopes, and thus generates considerable runoff. There are also mountain ranges on the eastern and northern boundaries of the basin, while the western areas are milder in slope and partially forested. Snow redistribution, snowmelt, glacier melt and frozen soil processes in winter and spring along with summertime rainfall-runoff and evapotranspiration processes are thus key to the simulation of streamflow in the basin. This project developed, set up, calibrated, validated, and operationalized a streamflow discharge forecasting system for the Yukon River and several of its tributary rivers within the Yukon Territory. The Yukon River Basin streamflow forecasting system is based around the MESH (Modélisation Environmentale Communautaire - Surface and Hydrology) hydrological land surface model. MESH is a state-of-the-art semi-distributed cold regions hydrological land surface model that models both the vertical exchanges of heat and moisture between the land surface and the atmosphere as well has the horizontal transfer of water to streams that is routed hydrologically to the outlet of the basin. It includes snow, frozen soil and glacier processes as well as the full suite of warm season hydrology. MESH is driven by the Environment and Climate Change Canada GEM weather model and hindcasts are driven by GEM-CaPA which is a data assimilation product that uses local precipitation observations where they exist. The rivers forecasted includes the Yukon River Basin upstream of Eagle, AK and the Porcupine River Basin near the international boundary. MESH provides supplemental high resolution simulations and forecasts for the Klondike, Stewart, Pelly and White Rivers at their mouths. Daily river discharge and water balance forecasts are produced by the system for each river basin. Having MESH run at both 10 km and 5 km resolution provides an assessment of model resolution needed for forecasting and also of model uncertainty in the forecasts. The MESH model was driven by GEM-CaPA for hindcasts and with the GEM ECCC Regional and Global Deterministic Prediction Systems - RDPS and GDPS forecasts for forecasts of 2 and 9 days. The GEM-MESH model showed good to very good predictions in most river basins after calibration and parameter selection, with challenges for the Porcupine and White rivers due to permafrost and wetlands (Porcupine) and to extensive icefields (White) and overall to sparse to non-existent observed precipitation data to assimilate into the CaPA system. The forecast system is capable of providing reliable streamflow predictions and is run with automated scripts on Amazon Web Services. Future development of the forecasting system should focus on the very challenging permafrost hydrology of the Porcupine River Basin, and the glacier hydrology of the White River which drains the largest icefields in North America. The model does not include a river ice component, but one could be added in the future.


Prepared for Government of Yukon, Yukon Environment, Water Resources Branch, Whitehorse, Yukon


Yukon River Basin, Vector-Based MESH Model, streamflow forecasts, Porcupine River Basin, White River, glacier hydrology








Part Of

Centre for Hydrology Report #16