Articles | Volume 14, issue 9
13 Sep 2010
 | 13 Sep 2010

Modelling the impact of prescribed global warming on runoff from headwater catchments of the Irrawaddy River and their implications for the water level regime of Loktak Lake, northeast India

C. R. Singh, J. R. Thompson, J. R. French, D. G. Kingston, and A. W. Mackay

Abstract. Climate change is likely to have major implications for wetland ecosystems, which will include altered water level regimes due to modifications in local and catchment hydrology. However, substantial uncertainty exists in the precise impacts of climate change on wetlands due in part to uncertainty in GCM projections. This paper explores the impacts of climate change upon river discharge within three sub-catchments of Loktak Lake, an internationally important wetland in northeast India. This is achieved by running pattern-scaled GCM output through distributed hydrological models (developed using MIKE SHE) of each sub-catchment. The impacts of climate change upon water levels within Loktak Lake are subsequently investigated using a water balance model. Two groups of climate change scenarios are investigated. Group 1 uses results from seven different GCMs for an increase in global mean temperature of 2 °C, the purported threshold of ''dangerous'' climate change, whilst Group 2 is based on results from the HadCM3 GCM for increases in global mean temperature between 1 °C and 6 °C. Results from the Group 1 scenarios show varying responses between the three sub-catchments. The majority of scenario-sub-catchment combinations (13 out of 21) indicate increases in discharge which vary from <1% to 42% although, in some cases, discharge decreases by as much as 20%. Six of the GCMs suggest overall increases in river flow to Loktak Lake (2–27%) whilst the other results in a modest (6%) decline. In contrast, the Group 2 scenarios lead to an almost linear increase in total river flow to Loktak Lake with increasing temperature (up to 27% for 6 °C), although two sub-catchments experience reductions in mean discharge for the smallest temperature increases. In all but one Group 1 scenario, and all the Group 2 scenarios, Loktak Lake water levels are higher, regularly reaching the top of a downstream hydropower barrage that impounds the lake and necessitating the release of water for barrage structural stability. Although elevated water levels may permit enhanced abstraction for irrigation and domestic uses, future increases in hydropower generation are limited by existing infrastructure. The higher water levels are likely to exacerbate existing ecological deterioration within the lake as well as enhancing problems of flooding of lakeside communities.