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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 9 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2789-2803, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-15-2789-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 08 Sep 2011

Research article | 08 Sep 2011

Climate change impacts on snow water availability in the Euphrates-Tigris basin

M. Özdoğan M. Özdoğan
  • Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) & Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1710 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53726, USA

Abstract. This study investigates the effects of projected climate change on snow water availability in the Euphrates-Tigris basin using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) macro scale hydrologic model and a set of regional climate-change outputs from 13 global circulation models (GCMs) forced with two greenhouse gas emission scenarios for two time periods in the 21st century (2050 and 2090). The hydrologic model produces a reasonable simulation of seasonal and spatial variation in snow cover and associated snow water equivalent (SWE) in the mountainous areas of the basin, although its performance is poorer at marginal snow cover sites. While there is great variation across GCM outputs influencing snow water availability, the majority of models and scenarios suggest a significant decline (between 10 and 60 percent) in available snow water, particularly under the high-impact A2 climate change scenario and later in the 21st century. The changes in SWE are more stable when multi-model ensemble GCM outputs are used to minimize inter-model variability, suggesting a consistent and significant decrease in snow-covered areas and associated water availability in the headwaters of the Euphrates-Tigris basin. Detailed analysis of future climatic conditions point to the combined effects of reduced precipitation and increased temperatures as primary drivers of reduced snowpack. Results also indicate a more rapid decline in snow cover in the lower elevation zones than the higher areas in a changing climate but these findings also contain a larger uncertainty. The simulated changes in snow water availability have important implications for the future of water resources and associated hydropower generation and land-use management and planning in a region already ripe for interstate water conflict. While the changes in the frequency and intensity of snow-bearing circulation systems or the interannual variability related to climate were not considered, the simulated changes in snow water availability presented here are likely to be indicative of climate change impacts on the water resources of the Euphrates-Tigris basin.

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