Articles | Volume 15, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2059–2075, 2011

Special issue: Catchment classification and PUB

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 2059–2075, 2011

Research article 04 Jul 2011

Research article | 04 Jul 2011

Prediction of future hydrological regimes in poorly gauged high altitude basins: the case study of the upper Indus, Pakistan

D. Bocchiola1, G. Diolaiuti2, A. Soncini1, C. Mihalcea2, C. D'Agata2, C. Mayer3, A. Lambrecht4, R. Rosso1, and C. Smiraglia2 D. Bocchiola et al.
  • 1Dept. Hydrologic, Environmental, Roads and Surveying Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, L. Da Vinci, 32, 20133, Milano, Italy
  • 2Dept. Earth Sciences, Università di Milano, Mangiagalli, 34, 20133, Milano, Italy
  • 3Commission for Glaciology, Bavarian Academy of Sciences, A. Goppel, 11, 80539 Munich, Germany
  • 4Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria

Abstract. In the mountain regions of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalaya (HKH) the "third polar ice cap" of our planet, glaciers play the role of "water towers" by providing significant amount of melt water, especially in the dry season, essential for agriculture, drinking purposes, and hydropower production. Recently, most glaciers in the HKH have been retreating and losing mass, mainly due to significant regional warming, thus calling for assessment of future water resources availability for populations down slope. However, hydrology of these high altitude catchments is poorly studied and little understood. Most such catchments are poorly gauged, thus posing major issues in flow prediction therein, and representing in fact typical grounds of application of PUB concepts, where simple and portable hydrological modeling based upon scarce data amount is necessary for water budget estimation, and prediction under climate change conditions. In this preliminarily study, future (2060) hydrological flows in a particular watershed (Shigar river at Shigar, ca. 7000 km2), nested within the upper Indus basin and fed by seasonal melt from major glaciers, are investigated.

The study is carried out under the umbrella of the SHARE-Paprika project, aiming at evaluating the impact of climate change upon hydrology of the upper Indus river. We set up a minimal hydrological model, tuned against a short series of observed ground climatic data from a number of stations in the area, in situ measured ice ablation data, and remotely sensed snow cover data. The future, locally adjusted, precipitation and temperature fields for the reference decade 2050–2059 from CCSM3 model, available within the IPCC's panel, are then fed to the hydrological model. We adopt four different glaciers' cover scenarios, to test sensitivity to decreased glacierized areas. The projected flow duration curves, and some selected flow descriptors are evaluated. The uncertainty of the results is then addressed, and use of the model for nearby catchments discussed. The proposed approach is valuable as a tool to investigate the hydrology of poorly gauged high altitude areas, and to project forward their hydrological behavior pending climate change.