Articles | Volume 17, issue 10
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 4241–4257, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 4241–4257, 2013

Research article 29 Oct 2013

Research article | 29 Oct 2013

Impacts of climate change on the seasonality of low flows in 134 catchments in the River Rhine basin using an ensemble of bias-corrected regional climate simulations

M. C. Demirel, M. J. Booij, and A. Y. Hoekstra M. C. Demirel et al.
  • Water Engineering and Management, Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, the Netherlands

Abstract. The impacts of climate change on the seasonality of low flows were analysed for 134 sub-catchments covering the River Rhine basin upstream of the Dutch-German border. Three seasonality indices for low flows were estimated, namely the seasonality ratio (SR), weighted mean occurrence day (WMOD) and weighted persistence (WP). These indices are related to the discharge regime, timing and variability in timing of low flow events respectively. The three indices were estimated from: (1) observed low flows; (2) simulated low flows by the semi-distributed HBV model using observed climate as input; (3) simulated low flows using simulated inputs from seven combinations of General Circulation Models (GCMs) and Regional Climate Models (RCMs) for the current climate (1964–2007); (4) simulated low flows using simulated inputs from seven combinations of GCMs and RCMs for the future climate (2063–2098) including three different greenhouse gas emission scenarios. These four cases were compared to assess the effects of the hydrological model, forcing by different climate models and different emission scenarios on the three indices.

Significant differences were found between cases 1 and 2. For instance, the HBV model is prone to overestimate SR and to underestimate WP and simulates very late WMODs compared to the estimated WMODs using observed discharges. Comparing the results of cases 2 and 3, the smallest difference was found for the SR index, whereas large differences were found for the WMOD and WP indices for the current climate. Finally, comparing the results of cases 3 and 4, we found that SR decreases substantially by 2063–2098 in all seven sub-basins of the River Rhine. The lower values of SR for the future climate indicate a shift from winter low flows (SR > 1) to summer low flows (SR < 1) in the two Alpine sub-basins. The WMODs of low flows tend to be earlier than for the current climate in all sub-basins except for the Middle Rhine and Lower Rhine sub-basins. The WP values are slightly larger, showing that the predictability of low flow events increases as the variability in timing decreases for the future climate. From comparison of the error sources evaluated in this study, it is obvious that different RCMs/GCMs have a larger influence on the timing of low flows than different emission scenarios. Finally, this study complements recent analyses of an international project (Rhineblick) by analysing the seasonality aspects of low flows and extends the scope further to understand the effects of hydrological model errors and climate change on three important low flow seasonality properties: regime, timing and persistence.