Articles | Volume 15, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 3511–3527, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 3511–3527, 2011

Research article 18 Nov 2011

Research article | 18 Nov 2011

Climate change impact on water resource extremes in a headwater region of the Tarim basin in China

T. Liu1, P. Willems1, X. L. Pan2, An. M. Bao2, X. Chen2, F. Veroustraete3, and Q. H. Dong3 T. Liu et al.
  • 1Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Department of Civil Engineering, Kasteelpark Arenberg 40, 3001 Leuven, Belgium
  • 2Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  • 3Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Belgium

Abstract. The Tarim river basin in China is a huge inland arid basin, which is expected to be highly vulnerable to climatic changes, given that most water resources originate from the upper mountainous headwater regions. This paper focuses on one of these headwaters: the Kaidu river subbasin. The climate change impact on the surface and ground water resources of that basin and more specifically on the hydrological extremes were studied by using both lumped and spatially distributed hydrological models, after simulation of the IPCC SRES greenhouse gas scenarios till the 2050s. The models include processes of snow and glacier melting. The climate change signals were extracted from the grid-based results of general circulation models (GCMs) and applied on the station-based, observed historical data using a perturbation approach. For precipitation, the time series perturbation involves both a wet-day frequency perturbation and a quantile perturbation to the wet-day rainfall intensities. For temperature and potential evapotranspiration, the climate change signals only involve quantile based changes. The perturbed series were input into the hydrological models and the impacts on the surface and ground water resources studied. The range of impact results (after considering 36 GCM runs) were summarized in high, mean, and low results. It was found that due to increasing precipitation in winter, snow accumulation increases in the upper mountainous areas. Due to temperature rise, snow melting rates increase and the snow melting periods are pushed forward in time. Although the qualitive impact results are highly consistent among the different GCM runs considered, the precise quantitative impact results varied significantly depending on the GCM run and the hydrological model.