Articles | Volume 16, issue 7
Research article
23 Jul 2012
Research article |  | 23 Jul 2012

Relating climate change signals and physiographic catchment properties to clustered hydrological response types

N. Köplin, B. Schädler, D. Viviroli, and R. Weingartner

Abstract. We propose an approach to reduce a comprehensive set of 186 mesoscale catchments in Switzerland to fewer response types to climate change and to name sensitive regions as well as catchment characteristics that govern hydrological change. We classified the hydrological responses of our study catchments through an agglomerative-hierarchical cluster analysis, and we related the dominant explanatory variables, i.e. the determining catchment properties and climate change signals, to the catchments' hydrological responses by means of redundancy analysis. All clusters except for one exhibit clearly decreasing summer runoff and increasing winter runoff. This seasonal shift was observed for the near future period (2025–2046) but is particularly obvious in the far future period (2074–2095). Within a certain elevation range (between 1000 and 2500 m a.s.l.), the hydrological change is basically a function of elevation, because the latter governs the dominant hydro-climatological processes associated with temperature, e.g. the ratio of liquid to solid precipitation and snow melt processes. For catchments below the stated range, hydrological change is mainly a function of precipitation change, which is not as pronounced as the temperature signal is. Future impact studies in Switzerland can be conducted on a reduced sample of catchments representing the sensitive regions or covering a range of altitudes.