Hydrological Sciences Journal
Motivated by recent extreme flow events in the Mataquito River located in the Mediterranean region of Chile, we performed a detailed trend analysis of critical hydroclimatic variables based on observed daily flow, precipitation and temperature within the basin. For the period 1976–2008, positive trends in temperature were observed, especially during spring and summer months. At the same time, we found negative trends in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, especially during spring months. We observed an increasing difference between average streamflow in the rainy season as compared to the snowmelt season. Part of this trend is caused by larger flows during autumn months, although no positive precipitation trends are observed for these months. Finally, significant reductions in minimum flow during spring/summer and a disproportionate concentration of high-flow events occurring in the last 10 years were also identified. These high-flow events tend to happen during autumn months, and are associated with high precipitation and high minimum temperatures. Based on a simple assessment of changes in irrigated agriculture and land use, we concluded that other non-climatic factors seem not to be as relevant to the detected flow trends. All these results are in accord with future climate change scenarios that show an increase in temperature, a reduction in average precipitation and a reduction in snow accumulation. Such future scenarios could seriously hamper the development of economic activities in this basin, exemplifying also a fate that may be shared by other similar basins in Chile and in other regions of the world.