Articles | Volume 19, issue 2
Research article
04 Feb 2015
Research article |  | 04 Feb 2015

Climate impact on floods: changes in high flows in Sweden in the past and the future (1911–2100)

B. Arheimer and G. Lindström

Abstract. There is an ongoing discussion whether floods occur more frequently today than in the past, and whether they will increase in number and magnitude in the future. To explore this issue in Sweden, we merged observed time series for the past century from 69 gauging sites throughout the country (450 000 km2) with high-resolution dynamic model projections of the upcoming century. The results show that the changes in annual maximum daily flows in Sweden oscillate between dry and wet periods but exhibit no significant trend over the past 100 years. Temperature was found to be the strongest climate driver of changes in river high flows, which are related primarily to snowmelt in Sweden. Annual daily high flows may decrease by on average −1% per decade in the future, mainly due to lower peaks from snowmelt in the spring (−2% per decade) as a result of higher temperatures and a shorter snow season. In contrast, autumn flows may increase by +3% per decade due to more intense rainfall. This indicates a shift in flood-generating processes in the future, with greater influence of rain-fed floods. Changes in climate may have a more significant impact on some specific rivers than on the average for the whole country. Our results suggest that the temporal pattern in future daily high flow in some catchments will shift in time, with spring floods in the northern–central part of Sweden occurring about 1 month earlier than today. High flows in the southern part of the country may become more frequent. Moreover, the current boundary between snow-driven floods in northern–central Sweden and rain-driven floods in the south may move toward higher latitudes due to less snow accumulation in the south and at low altitudes. The findings also indicate a tendency in observations toward the modeled projections for timing of daily high flows over the last 25 years. Uncertainties related to both the observed data and the complex model chain of climate impact assessments in hydrology are discussed.

Short summary
Is the occurrence of floods changing in frequency or magnitude? We have analyzed 100 years of observed time series from 69 gauging sites and high-resolution modeling of climate change impact across Sweden for 140 years. The results indicate no significant trend in high flows in the past but some shifts in flood-generating processes at present and in the future. Rain-generated floods may have a more marked effect, and some specific rivers may be more affected by climate change than others.