Articles | Volume 18, issue 6
Research article
03 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 03 Jun 2014

Climate change impacts on the hydrologic regime of a Canadian river: comparing uncertainties arising from climate natural variability and lumped hydrological model structures

G. Seiller and F. Anctil

Abstract. Diagnosing the impacts of climate change on water resources is a difficult task pertaining to the uncertainties arising from the different modelling steps. Lumped hydrological model structures contribute to this uncertainty as well as the natural climate variability, illustrated by several members from the same Global Circulation Model. In this paper, the hydroclimatic modelling chain consists of twenty-four potential evapotranspiration formulations, twenty lumped conceptual hydrological models, and seven snowmelt modules. These structures are applied on a natural Canadian sub-catchment to address related uncertainties and compare them to the natural internal variability of simulated climate system as depicted by five climatic members. Uncertainty in simulated streamflow under current and projected climates is assessed. They rely on interannual hydrographs and hydrological indicators analysis. Results show that natural climate variability is the major source of uncertainty, followed by potential evapotranspiration formulations and hydrological models. The selected snowmelt modules, however, do not contribute much to the uncertainty. The analysis also illustrates that the streamflow simulation over the current climate period is already conditioned by the tools' selection. This uncertainty is propagated to reference simulations and future projections, amplified by climatic members. These findings demonstrate the importance of opting for several climatic members to encompass the important uncertainty related to the climate natural variability, but also of selecting multiple modelling tools to provide a trustworthy diagnosis of the impacts of climate change on water resources.