A large-sample investigation into uncertain climate change impacts on high flows across Great Britain

Lane, Rosanna A. ORCID:; Coxon, Gemma ORCID:; Freer, Jim ORCID:; Seibert, Jan ORCID:; Wagener, Thorsten ORCID: 2022 A large-sample investigation into uncertain climate change impacts on high flows across Great Britain. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 26 (21). 5535-5554.

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Climate change may significantly increase flood risk globally, but there are large uncertainties in both future climatic changes and how these propagate into changing river flows. Here, the impact of climate change on the magnitude and frequency of high flows is analysed for Great Britain (GB) to provide the first spatially consistent GB projections to include both climate ensembles and hydrological model parameter uncertainties. We use the latest high-resolution (12 km) regional climate model ensemble from the UK Climate Projections (UKCP18). These projections are based on a perturbed-physics ensemble of 12 regional climate model simulations and allow exploration of climate model uncertainty beyond the variability caused by the use of different models. We model 346 larger (>144 km2) catchments across GB using the DECIPHeR hydrological modelling framework. Generally, results indicated an increase in the magnitude and frequency of high flows (Q10, Q1, and annual maximum) along the western coast of GB in the future (2050–2075), with increases in annual maximum flows of up to 65 % for western Scotland. In contrast, median flows (Q50) were projected to decrease across GB. Even when using an ensemble based on a single regional climate model (RCM) structure, all flow projections contained large uncertainties. While the RCM parameters were the largest source of uncertainty overall, hydrological modelling uncertainties were considerable in eastern and south-eastern England. Regional variations in flow projections were found to relate to (i) differences in climatic change and (ii) catchment conditions during the baseline period as characterised by the runoff coefficient (mean discharge divided by mean precipitation). Importantly, increased heavy-precipitation events (defined by an increase in 99th percentile precipitation) did not always result in increased flood flows for catchments with low runoff coefficients, highlighting the varying factors leading to changes in high flows. These results provide a national overview of climate change impacts on high flows across GB, which will inform climate change adaptation, and highlight the impact of hydrological model parameter uncertainties when modelling climate change impact on high flows.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Unaffiliated
ISSN: 1027-5606
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
NORA Subject Terms: Hydrology
Date made live: 01 Mar 2023 14:40 +0 (UTC)

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