Assessing uncertainties in climate change impact analyses on the river flow regimes in the UK. Part 1: baseline climate

Prudhomme, Christel; Davies, Helen. 2009 Assessing uncertainties in climate change impact analyses on the river flow regimes in the UK. Part 1: baseline climate. Climatic Change, 93 (1-2). 177-195.

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Assessing future climate and its potential implications on river flows is a key challenge facing water resource planners. Sound, scientifically-based advice to decision makers also needs to incorporate information on the uncertainty in the results. Moreover, existing bias in the reproduction of the ‘current’ (or baseline) river flow regime is likely to transfer to the simulations of flow in future time horizons, and it is thus critical to undertake baseline flow assessment while undertaking future impacts studies. This paper investigates the three main sources of uncertainty surrounding climate change impact studies on river flows: uncertainty in GCMs, in downscaling techniques and in hydrological modelling. The study looked at four British catchments’ flow series simulated by a lumped conceptual rainfall–runoff model with observed and GCM-derived rainfall series representative of the baseline time horizon (1961–1990). A block-resample technique was used to assess climate variability, either from observed records (natural variability) or reproduced by GCMs. Variations in mean monthly flows due to hydrological model uncertainty from different model structures or model parameters were also evaluated. Three GCMs (HadCM3, CCGCM2, and CSIRO-mk2) and two downscaling techniques (SDSM and HadRM3) were considered. Results showed that for all four catchments, GCM uncertainty is generally larger than downscaling uncertainty, and both are consistently greater than uncertainty from hydrological modelling or natural variability. No GCM or downscaling technique was found to be significantly better or to have a systematic bias smaller than the others. This highlights the need to consider more than one GCM and downscaling technique in impact studies, and to assess the bias they introduce when modelling river flows.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Water > WA01 Water extremes > WA01.3 Quantification of uncertainties, trends and risk of extremes
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Harding (to July 2011)
ISSN: 0165-0009
Additional Keywords: climate change, uncertainty, GCM, Downscaling
NORA Subject Terms: Hydrology
Date made live: 08 Dec 2009 15:17 +0 (UTC)

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