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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 7, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 7, 619–641, 2003
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-7-619-2003
© Author(s) 2003. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 7, 619–641, 2003
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-7-619-2003
© Author(s) 2003. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

  31 Oct 2003

31 Oct 2003

Effects of IPCC SRES* emissions scenarios on river runoff: a global perspective

N. W. Arnell N. W. Arnell
  • Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and School of Geography, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ
  • email: n.w.arnell@soton.ac.uk

Abstract. This paper describes an assessment of the implications of future climate change for river runoff across the entire world, using six climate models which have been driven by the SRES emissions scenarios. Streamflow is simulated at a spatial resolution of 0.5°x0.5° using a macro-scale hydrological model, and summed to produce total runoff for almost 1200 catchments. The effects of climate change have been compared with the effects of natural multi-decadal climatic variability, as determined from a long unforced climate simulation using HadCM3. By the 2020s, change in runoff due to climate change in approximately a third of the catchments is less than that due to natural variability but, by the 2080s, this falls to between 10 and 30%. The climate models produce broadly similar changes in runoff, with increases in high latitudes, east Africa and south and east Asia, and decreases in southern and eastern Europe, western Russia, north Africa and the Middle East, central and southern Africa, much of North America, most of South America, and south and east Asia. The pattern of change in runoff is largely determined by simulated change in precipitation, offset by a general increase in evaporation. There is little difference in the pattern of change between different emissions scenarios (for a given model), and only by the 2080s is there evidence that the magnitudes of change in runoff vary, with emissions scenario A1FI producing the greatest change and B1 the smallest. The inter-annual variability in runoff increases in most catchments due to climate change — even though the inter-annual variability in precipitation is not changed — and the frequency of flow below the current 10-year return period minimum annual runoff increases by a factor of three in Europe and southern Africa and of two across North America. Across most of the world climate change does not alter the timing of flows through the year but, in the marginal zone between cool and mild climates, higher temperatures mean that peak streamflow moves from spring to winter as less winter precipitation falls as snow. The spatial pattern of changes in the 10-year return period maximum monthly runoff follows changes in annual runoff.

Keywords: SRES emissions scenarios, climate change impacts on runoff, multi-decadal variability, macro-scale hydrological model, drought frequency, flood frequency

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