Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
16 Jun 2011
Research article |  | 16 Jun 2011

Long term variability of the annual hydrological regime and sensitivity to temperature phase shifts in Saxony/Germany

M. Renner and C. Bernhofer

Abstract. Recently, climatological studies report observational evidence of changes in the timing of the seasons, such as earlier timing of the annual cycle of surface temperature, earlier snow melt and earlier onset of the phenological spring season. Also hydrological studies report earlier timing and changes in monthly streamflows. From a water resources management perspective, there is a need to quantitatively describe the variability in the timing of hydrological regimes and to understand how climatic changes control the seasonal water budget of river basins.

Here, the timing of hydrological regimes from 1930–2009 was investigated in a network of 27 river gauges in Saxony/Germany through a timing measure derived by harmonic function approximation of annual periods of runoff ratio series. The timing measure proofed to be robust and equally applicable to both mainly pluvial river basins and snow melt dominated regimes.

We found that the timing of runoff ratio is highly variable, but markedly coherent across the basins analysed. Differences in average timing are largely explained by basin elevation. Also the magnitude of low frequent changes in the seasonal timing of streamflow and the sensitivity to the changes in the timing of temperature increase with basin elevation. This sensitivity is in turn related to snow storage and release, whereby snow cover dynamics in late winter explain a large part of the low- and high-frequency variability.

A trend analysis based on cumulative anomalies revealed a common structural break around the year 1988. While the timing of temperature shifted earlier by 4 days, accompanied by a temperature increase of 1 K, the timing of runoff ratio within higher basins shifted towards occurring earlier about 1 to 3 weeks. This accelerated and distinct change indicates, that impacts of climate change on the water cycle may be strongest in higher, snow melt dominated basins.