Despite its far-reaching implications for conservation and natural resource management, little is known about the color of environmental noise, or the structure of temporal autocorrelation in random environmental variation, in streams and rivers. Here, we analyze the geography, drivers, and timescale-dependence of noise color in streamflow across the U.S. hydrography, using streamflow time series from 7504 gages. We find that daily and annual flows are dominated by red and white spectra respectively, and spatial variation in noise color is explained by a combination of geographic, hydroclimatic, and anthropogenic variables. Noise color at the daily scale is influenced by stream network position, and land use and water management explain around one third of the spatial variation in noise color irrespective of the timescale considered. Our results highlight the peculiarities of environmental variation regimes in riverine systems, and reveal a strong human fingerprint on the stochastic patterns of streamflow variation in river networks.
The color of environmental noise in river networks