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Volume 22, issue 2 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 1593-1614, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 01 Mar 2018

Research article | 01 Mar 2018

Projected cryospheric and hydrological impacts of 21st century climate change in the Ötztal Alps (Austria) simulated using a physically based approach

Florian Hanzer1,2, Kristian Förster1,3, Johanna Nemec4, and Ulrich Strasser1 Florian Hanzer et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 2Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
  • 3Institute of Hydrology and Water Resources Management, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Hannover, Germany
  • 4ENVEO IT GmbH, Innsbruck, Austria

Abstract. A physically based hydroclimatological model (AMUNDSEN) is used to assess future climate change impacts on the cryosphere and hydrology of the Ötztal Alps (Austria) until 2100. The model is run in 100m spatial and 3h temporal resolution using in total 31 downscaled, bias-corrected, and temporally disaggregated EURO-CORDEX climate projections for the representative concentration pathways (RCPs) 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 scenarios as forcing data, making this – to date – the most detailed study for this region in terms of process representation and range of considered climate projections. Changes in snow coverage, glacierization, and hydrological regimes are discussed both for a larger area encompassing the Ötztal Alps (1850km2, 862–3770ma.s.l.) as well as for seven catchments in the area with varying size (11–165km2) and glacierization (24–77%).

Results show generally declining snow amounts with moderate decreases (0–20% depending on the emission scenario) of mean annual snow water equivalent in high elevations (>2500ma.s.l.) until the end of the century. The largest decreases, amounting to up to 25–80%, are projected to occur in elevations below 1500ma.s.l. Glaciers in the region will continue to retreat strongly, leaving only 4–20% of the initial (as of 2006) ice volume left by 2100. Total and summer (JJA) runoff will change little during the early 21st century (2011–2040) with simulated decreases (compared to 1997–2006) of up to 11% (total) and 13% (summer) depending on catchment and scenario, whereas runoff volumes decrease by up to 39% (total) and 47% (summer) towards the end of the century (2071–2100), accompanied by a shift in peak flows from July towards June.

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Short summary
Climate change effects on snow, glaciers, and hydrology are investigated for the Ötztal Alps region (Austria) using a hydroclimatological model driven by climate projections for the RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5 scenarios. The results show declining snow amounts and strongly retreating glaciers with moderate effects on catchment runoff until the mid-21st century, whereas annual runoff volumes decrease strongly towards the end of the century.
Climate change effects on snow, glaciers, and hydrology are investigated for the Ötztal Alps...