Articles | Volume 16, issue 11
Research article
26 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 26 Nov 2012

Using the UKCP09 probabilistic scenarios to model the amplified impact of climate change on drainage basin sediment yield

T. J. Coulthard, J. Ramirez, H. J. Fowler, and V. Glenis

Abstract. Precipitation intensities and the frequency of extreme events are projected to increase under climate change. These rainfall changes will lead to increases in the magnitude and frequency of flood events that will, in turn, affect patterns of erosion and deposition within river basins. These geomorphic changes to river systems may affect flood conveyance, infrastructure resilience, channel pattern, and habitat status as well as sediment, nutrient and carbon fluxes. Previous research modelling climatic influences on geomorphic changes has been limited by how climate variability and change are represented by downscaling from global or regional climate models. Furthermore, the non-linearity of the climatic, hydrological and geomorphic systems involved generate large uncertainties at each stage of the modelling process creating an uncertainty "cascade".

This study integrates state-of-the-art approaches from the climate change and geomorphic communities to address these issues in a probabilistic modelling study of the Swale catchment, UK. The UKCP09 weather generator is used to simulate hourly rainfall for the baseline and climate change scenarios up to 2099, and used to drive the CAESAR landscape evolution model to simulate geomorphic change. Results show that winter rainfall is projected to increase, with larger increases at the extremes. The impact of the increasing rainfall is amplified through the translation into catchment runoff and in turn sediment yield with a 100% increase in catchment mean sediment yield predicted between the baseline and the 2070–2099 High emissions scenario. Significant increases are shown between all climate change scenarios and baseline values. Analysis of extreme events also shows the amplification effect from rainfall to sediment delivery with even greater amplification associated with higher return period events. Furthermore, for the 2070–2099 High emissions scenario, sediment discharges from 50-yr return period events are predicted to be 5 times larger than baseline values.