Articles | Volume 15, issue 2
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 471–504, 2011

Special issue: Climate change and water resources management in mountains

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 471–504, 2011

  04 Feb 2011

04 Feb 2011

Climate change and mountain water resources: overview and recommendations for research, management and policy

D. Viviroli1,2, D. R. Archer3,4, W. Buytaert5, H. J. Fowler4, G. B. Greenwood6, A. F. Hamlet7, Y. Huang8, G. Koboltschnig9,10, M. I. Litaor11, J. I. López-Moreno12, S. Lorentz13, B. Schädler1,2, H. Schreier14, K. Schwaiger15, M. Vuille16, and R. Woods17 D. Viviroli et al.
  • 1Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • 3JBA Consulting, Skipton, North Yorkshire, UK
  • 4School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University, UK
  • 5Imperial College, London, UK
  • 6Mountain Research Initiative, University of Bern, Switzerland
  • 7Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Center for Science in the Earth System Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  • 8Bureau of Hydrology, Changjiang Water Resources Commission, Wuhan, Hubei, China
  • 9International Research Society INTERPRAEVENT, Klagenfurt, Austria
  • 10Department for Water Management, Provincial Government of Carinthia, Klagenfurt, Austria
  • 11Department of Environmental Sciences, Tel-Hai Academic College, Israel
  • 12Pyrenean Institute of Ecology, Spanish Research Council, CSIC, Zaragoza, Spain
  • 13School of Bioresources Engineering & Environmental Hydrology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
  • 14Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • 15Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Vienna, Austria
  • 16Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, NY, USA
  • 17National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Christchurch, New Zealand

Abstract. Mountains are essential sources of freshwater for our world, but their role in global water resources could well be significantly altered by climate change. How well do we understand these potential changes today, and what are implications for water resources management, climate change adaptation, and evolving water policy? To answer above questions, we have examined 11 case study regions with the goal of providing a global overview, identifying research gaps and formulating recommendations for research, management and policy.

After setting the scene regarding water stress, water management capacity and scientific capacity in our case study regions, we examine the state of knowledge in water resources from a highland-lowland viewpoint, focusing on mountain areas on the one hand and the adjacent lowland areas on the other hand. Based on this review, research priorities are identified, including precipitation, snow water equivalent, soil parameters, evapotranspiration and sublimation, groundwater as well as enhanced warming and feedback mechanisms. In addition, the importance of environmental monitoring at high altitudes is highlighted. We then make recommendations how advancements in the management of mountain water resources under climate change could be achieved in the fields of research, water resources management and policy as well as through better interaction between these fields.

We conclude that effective management of mountain water resources urgently requires more detailed regional studies and more reliable scenario projections, and that research on mountain water resources must become more integrative by linking relevant disciplines. In addition, the knowledge exchange between managers and researchers must be improved and oriented towards long-term continuous interaction.