Articles | Volume 21, issue 11
Research article
13 Nov 2017
Research article |  | 13 Nov 2017

Evaluating climate change impacts on streamflow variability based on a multisite multivariate GCM downscaling method in the Jing River of China

Zhi Li and Jiming Jin

Abstract. Projected hydrological variability is important for future resource and hazard management of water supplies because changes in hydrological variability can cause more disasters than changes in the mean state. However, climate change scenarios downscaled from Earth System Models (ESMs) at single sites cannot meet the requirements of distributed hydrologic models for simulating hydrological variability. This study developed multisite multivariate climate change scenarios via three steps: (i) spatial downscaling of ESMs using a transfer function method, (ii) temporal downscaling of ESMs using a single-site weather generator, and (iii) reconstruction of spatiotemporal correlations using a distribution-free shuffle procedure. Multisite precipitation and temperature change scenarios for 2011–2040 were generated from five ESMs under four representative concentration pathways to project changes in streamflow variability using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) for the Jing River, China. The correlation reconstruction method performed realistically for intersite and intervariable correlation reproduction and hydrological modeling. The SWAT model was found to be well calibrated with monthly streamflow with a model efficiency coefficient of 0.78. It was projected that the annual mean precipitation would not change, while the mean maximum and minimum temperatures would increase significantly by 1.6 ± 0.3 and 1.3 ± 0.2 °C; the variance ratios of 2011–2040 to 1961–2005 were 1.15 ± 0.13 for precipitation, 1.15 ± 0.14 for mean maximum temperature, and 1.04 ± 0.10 for mean minimum temperature. A warmer climate was predicted for the flood season, while the dry season was projected to become wetter and warmer; the findings indicated that the intra-annual and interannual variations in the future climate would be greater than in the current climate. The total annual streamflow was found to change insignificantly but its variance ratios of 2011–2040 to 1961–2005 increased by 1.25 ± 0.55. Streamflow variability was predicted to become greater over most months on the seasonal scale because of the increased monthly maximum streamflow and decreased monthly minimum streamflow. The increase in streamflow variability was attributed mainly to larger positive contributions from increased precipitation variances rather than negative contributions from increased mean temperatures.

Short summary
We developed an efficient multisite and multivariate GCM downscaling method and generated climate change scenarios for SWAT to evaluate the streamflow variability within a watershed in China. The application of the ensemble techniques enables us to better quantify the model uncertainties. The peak values of precipitation and streamflow have a tendency to shift from the summer to spring season over the next 30 years. The number of extreme flooding and drought events will increase.