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Future changes in annual, seasonal and monthly runoff signatures in contrasting Alpine catchments in Austria


Hanus, Sarah; Hrachowitz, Markus; Zekollari, Harry; Schoups, Gerrit; Vizcaino, Miren; Kaitna, Roland (2021). Future changes in annual, seasonal and monthly runoff signatures in contrasting Alpine catchments in Austria. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 25(6):3429-3453.

Abstract

Hydrological regimes of alpine catchments are expected to be strongly affected by climate change, mostly due to their dependence on snow and ice dynamics. While seasonal changes have been studied extensively, studies on changes in the timing and magnitude of annual extremes remain rare. This study investigates the effects of climate change on runoff patterns in six contrasting Alpine catchments in Austria using a process-based, semi-distributed hydrological model and projections from 14 regional and global climate model combinations for two representative concentration pathways, namely RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. The study catchments represent a spectrum of different hydrological regimes, from pluvial–nival to nivo-glacial, as well as distinct topographies and land forms, characterizing different elevation zones across the eastern Alps to provide a comprehensive picture of future runoff changes. The climate projections are used to model river runoff in 2071–2100, which are then compared to the 1981–2010 reference period for all study catchments. Changes in the timing and magnitude of annual maximum and minimum flows, as well as in monthly runoff and snowmelt, are quantified and analyzed. Our results indicate a substantial shift to earlier occurrences in annual maximum flows by 9 to 31 d and an extension of the potential flood season by 1 to 3 months for high-elevation catchments. For low-elevation catchments, changes in the timing of annual maximum flows are less pronounced. Magnitudes of annual maximum flows are likely to increase by 2 %–18 % under RCP4.5, while no clear changes are projected for four catchments under RCP8.5. The latter is caused by a pronounced increase in evaporation and decrease in snowmelt contributions, which offset increases in precipitation. In the future, minimum annual runoff will occur 13–31 d earlier in the winter months for high-elevation catchments, whereas for low-elevation catchments a shift from winter to autumn by about 15–100 d is projected, with generally larger changes for RCP8.5. While all catchments show an increase in mean magnitude of minimum flows by 7–30% under RCP4.5, this is only the case for four catchments under RCP8.5. Our results suggest a relationship between the elevation of catchments and changes in the timing of annual maximum and minimum flows. For the magnitude of the extreme flows, a relationship is found between catchment elevation and annual minimum flows, whereas this relationship is lacking between elevation and annual maximum flow.

Abstract

Hydrological regimes of alpine catchments are expected to be strongly affected by climate change, mostly due to their dependence on snow and ice dynamics. While seasonal changes have been studied extensively, studies on changes in the timing and magnitude of annual extremes remain rare. This study investigates the effects of climate change on runoff patterns in six contrasting Alpine catchments in Austria using a process-based, semi-distributed hydrological model and projections from 14 regional and global climate model combinations for two representative concentration pathways, namely RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. The study catchments represent a spectrum of different hydrological regimes, from pluvial–nival to nivo-glacial, as well as distinct topographies and land forms, characterizing different elevation zones across the eastern Alps to provide a comprehensive picture of future runoff changes. The climate projections are used to model river runoff in 2071–2100, which are then compared to the 1981–2010 reference period for all study catchments. Changes in the timing and magnitude of annual maximum and minimum flows, as well as in monthly runoff and snowmelt, are quantified and analyzed. Our results indicate a substantial shift to earlier occurrences in annual maximum flows by 9 to 31 d and an extension of the potential flood season by 1 to 3 months for high-elevation catchments. For low-elevation catchments, changes in the timing of annual maximum flows are less pronounced. Magnitudes of annual maximum flows are likely to increase by 2 %–18 % under RCP4.5, while no clear changes are projected for four catchments under RCP8.5. The latter is caused by a pronounced increase in evaporation and decrease in snowmelt contributions, which offset increases in precipitation. In the future, minimum annual runoff will occur 13–31 d earlier in the winter months for high-elevation catchments, whereas for low-elevation catchments a shift from winter to autumn by about 15–100 d is projected, with generally larger changes for RCP8.5. While all catchments show an increase in mean magnitude of minimum flows by 7–30% under RCP4.5, this is only the case for four catchments under RCP8.5. Our results suggest a relationship between the elevation of catchments and changes in the timing of annual maximum and minimum flows. For the magnitude of the extreme flows, a relationship is found between catchment elevation and annual minimum flows, whereas this relationship is lacking between elevation and annual maximum flow.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:17 June 2021
Deposited On:22 Jun 2021 14:54
Last Modified:22 Jun 2021 15:09
Publisher:Copernicus Publications
ISSN:1027-5606
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-25-3429-2021

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