Articles | Volume 15, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 21–38, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 21–38, 2011

Research article 03 Jan 2011

Research article | 03 Jan 2011

Analysis of the impact of climate change on groundwater related hydrological fluxes: a multi-model approach including different downscaling methods

S. Stoll1, H. J. Hendricks Franssen1,3, M. Butts2, and W. Kinzelbach1 S. Stoll et al.
  • 1Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2DHI Water and Environment, 2970 Hørsholm, Denmark
  • 3Agrosphere, ICG-4, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, 52425 Jülich, Germany

Abstract. Climate change related modifications in the spatio-temporal distribution of precipitation and evapotranspiration will have an impact on groundwater resources. This study presents a modelling approach exploiting the advantages of integrated hydrological modelling and a broad climate model basis. We applied the integrated MIKE SHE model on a perialpine, small catchment in northern Switzerland near Zurich. To examine the impact of climate change we forced the hydrological model with data from eight GCM-RCM combinations showing systematic biases which are corrected by three different statistical downscaling methods, not only for precipitation but also for the variables that govern potential evapotranspiration. The downscaling methods are evaluated in a split sample test and the sensitivity of the downscaling procedure on the hydrological fluxes is analyzed. The RCMs resulted in very different projections of potential evapotranspiration and, especially, precipitation. All three downscaling methods reduced the differences between the predictions of the RCMs and all corrected predictions showed no future groundwater stress which can be related to an expected increase in precipitation during winter. It turned out that especially the timing of the precipitation and thus recharge is very important for the future development of the groundwater levels. However, the simulation experiments revealed the weaknesses of the downscaling methods which directly influence the predicted hydrological fluxes, and thus also the predicted groundwater levels. The downscaling process is identified as an important source of uncertainty in hydrological impact studies, which has to be accounted for. Therefore it is strongly recommended to test different downscaling methods by using verification data before applying them to climate model data.