Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1419–1433, 2012
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1419–1433, 2012

Research article 15 May 2012

Research article | 15 May 2012

Evaluation of water-energy balance frameworks to predict the sensitivity of streamflow to climate change

M. Renner1, R. Seppelt2, and C. Bernhofer1 M. Renner et al.
  • 1Technische Universität Dresden, Faculty of Forest-, Geo- and Hydro Sciences – Institute of Hydrology and Meteorology – Chair of Meteorology, Pienner Str. 23, 01737 Tharandt, Germany
  • 2Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Permoserstr. 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany

Abstract. Long term average change in streamflow is a major concern in hydrology and water resources management. Some simple analytical methods exist for the assessment of the sensitivity of streamflow to climatic variations. These are based on the Budyko hypothesis, which assumes that long term average streamflow can be predicted by climate conditions, namely by annual average precipitation and evaporative demand. Recently, Tomer and Schilling (2009) presented an ecohydrological concept to distinguish between effects of climate change and basin characteristics change on streamflow. We relate the concept to a coupled consideration of the water and energy balance. We show that the concept is equivalent to the assumption that the sum of the ratio of annual actual evapotranspiration to precipitation and the ratio of actual to potential evapotranspiration is constant, even when climate conditions are changing.

Here, we use this assumption to derive analytical solutions to the problem of streamflow sensitivity to climate. We show how, according to this assumption, climate sensitivity would be influenced by different climatic conditions and the actual hydrological response of a basin. Finally, the properties and implications of the method are compared with established Budyko sensitivity methods and illustrated by three case studies. It appears that the largest differences between both approaches occur under limiting conditions. Specifically, the sensitivity framework based on the ecohydrological concept does not adhere to the water and energy limits, while the Budyko approach accounts for limiting conditions by increasing the sensitivity of streamflow to a catchment parameter encoding basin characteristics. Our findings do not support any application of the ecohydrological concept under conditions close to the water or energy limits, instead we suggest a correction based on the Budyko framework.