Hydrological response to climate change in the Lesse and the Vesdre catchments: contribution of a physically based model (Wallonia, Belgium)
Abstract. The Meuse is an important rain-fed river in North-Western Europe. Nine million people live in its catchment, split over five countries. Projected changes in precipitation and temperature characteristics due to climate change would have a significant impact on the Meuse River and its tributaries. In this study, we focused on the impacts of climate change on the hydrology of two sub-catchments of the Meuse in Belgium, the Lesse and the Vesdre, placing the emphasis on the water-soil-plant continuum in order to highlight the effects of climate change on plant growth, and water uptake on the hydrology of two sub-catchments. These effects were studied using two climate scenarios and a physically based distributed model, which reflects the water-soil-plant continuum. Our results show that the vegetation will evapotranspirate between 10 and 17 % less at the end of the century because of water scarcity in summer, even if the root development is better under climate change conditions. In the low scenario, the mean minimal 7 days discharge value could decrease between 19 and 24 % for a two year return period, and between 20 and 35 % for a fifty year return period. It will lead to rare but severe drought in rivers, with potentially huge consequences on water quality.