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Changes in Streamflow Dynamics in the Rhine Basin under Three High-Resolution Regional Climate Scenarios

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  • 1 Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands
  • | 2 Max Planck Institut für Meteorologie, Hamburg, Germany
  • | 3 Department of Hydrology and Water Resources, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
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Abstract

Because of global warming, the hydrologic behavior of the Rhine basin is expected to shift from a combined snowmelt- and rainfall-driven regime to a more rainfall-dominated regime. Previous impact assessments have indicated that this leads, on average, to increasing streamflow by ∼30% in winter and spring and decreasing streamflow by a similar value in summer. In this study, high-resolution (0.088°) regional climate scenarios conducted with the regional climate model REMO (REgional MOdel) for the Rhine basin are used to force a macroscale hydrological model. These climate scenarios are based on model output from the ECHAM5–Max Planck Institute Ocean Model (MPI-OM) global climate model, which is in turn forced by three Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) emission scenarios: A2, A1B, and B1. The Variable Infiltration Capacity model (VIC; version 4.0.5) is used to examine changes in streamflow at various locations throughout the Rhine basin. Average streamflow, peak flows, low flows, and several water balance terms are evaluated for both the first and second half of the twenty-first century. The results reveal a distinct contrast between those periods. The first half is dominated by increased precipitation, causing increased streamflow throughout the year. During the second half of the century, a streamflow increase in winter/spring and a decrease in summer is found, similar to previous studies. This is caused by 1) temperature and evapotranspiration, which are considerably higher during the second half of the century; 2) decreased precipitation in summer; and 3) an earlier start of the snowmelt season. Magnitudes of peak flows increase during both periods, and the magnitudes of streamflow droughts increase only during the second half of the century.

Corresponding author address: Ruud Hurkmans, Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Email: ruud.hurkmans@wur.nl

Abstract

Because of global warming, the hydrologic behavior of the Rhine basin is expected to shift from a combined snowmelt- and rainfall-driven regime to a more rainfall-dominated regime. Previous impact assessments have indicated that this leads, on average, to increasing streamflow by ∼30% in winter and spring and decreasing streamflow by a similar value in summer. In this study, high-resolution (0.088°) regional climate scenarios conducted with the regional climate model REMO (REgional MOdel) for the Rhine basin are used to force a macroscale hydrological model. These climate scenarios are based on model output from the ECHAM5–Max Planck Institute Ocean Model (MPI-OM) global climate model, which is in turn forced by three Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) emission scenarios: A2, A1B, and B1. The Variable Infiltration Capacity model (VIC; version 4.0.5) is used to examine changes in streamflow at various locations throughout the Rhine basin. Average streamflow, peak flows, low flows, and several water balance terms are evaluated for both the first and second half of the twenty-first century. The results reveal a distinct contrast between those periods. The first half is dominated by increased precipitation, causing increased streamflow throughout the year. During the second half of the century, a streamflow increase in winter/spring and a decrease in summer is found, similar to previous studies. This is caused by 1) temperature and evapotranspiration, which are considerably higher during the second half of the century; 2) decreased precipitation in summer; and 3) an earlier start of the snowmelt season. Magnitudes of peak flows increase during both periods, and the magnitudes of streamflow droughts increase only during the second half of the century.

Corresponding author address: Ruud Hurkmans, Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, Netherlands. Email: ruud.hurkmans@wur.nl

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