13 Apr 2021

13 Apr 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Future water temperature of rivers in Switzerland under climate change investigated with physics-based models

Adrien Michel1,2, Bettina Schaefli3, Nander Wever4, Harry Zekollari5,6,7, Michael Lehning1,2, and Hendrik Huwald1,2 Adrien Michel et al.
  • 1School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland
  • 2WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF), Davos, Switzerland
  • 3Institute of Geography & Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 4Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, USA
  • 5Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), Zürich, Switzerland
  • 6Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • 7Department of Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands

Abstract. Rivers are ecosystems highly sensitive to climate change and projected future increase in air temperature is expected to increase the stress for these ecosystems. Rivers are also an important socio-economical factor. In addition to changes in water availability, climate change will impact the temperature of rivers. This study presents a detailed analysis of river temperature and discharge evolution over the 21st century in Switzerland, a country covering a wide range of Alpine and lowland hydrological regimes. In total, 12 catchments are studied. They are situated both in the lowland Swiss Plateau and the Alpine regions and cover overall 10 % of the country’s area. This represents the so far largest study of climate change impacts on river temperature in Switzerland. The impact of climate change is assessed using a chain of physics-based models forced with the most recent climate change scenarios for Switzerland including low, mid, and high emissions pathways. A clear warming of river water is modelled during the 21st century, more pronounced for the high emission scenarios and toward the end of the century. For the period 2030–2040, median warming in river temperature of +1.1 °C for Swiss Plateau catchments and of +0.8 °C for Alpine catchments are expected compared to the reference period 1990–2000 (similar for all emission scenarios). At the end of the century (2080–2090), the median annual river temperature increase ranges between +0.9 °C for low emission and +3.5 °C for high emission scenarios for both Swiss Plateau and Alpine catchments. At the seasonal scale, the warming on the Swiss Plateau and in the Alpine regions exhibits different patterns. For the Swiss Plateau, the spring and fall warming is comparable to the warming in winter, while the summer warming is stronger but still moderate. In Alpine catchments, only a very limited warming is expected in winter. A marked discharge increase in winter and spring is expected in these catchments due to enhanced snowmelt and a larger fraction of liquid precipitation. Accordingly, the period of maximum discharge in Alpine catchments, currently occurring during mid-summer, will shift to earlier in the year by a few weeks (low emission) or almost two months (high emission) by the end of the century. In summer, the marked discharge reduction in Alpine catchments for high emission scenarios leads to an increase in sensitivity of water temperature to low discharge, which is not observed in the Swiss Plateau catchments. In addition, an important soil warming is expected due to glacier and snow cover decrease. These effects combined lead to a summertime river warming of +6.0 °C in Alpine catchments by the end of the century for high emission scenarios. Two metrics are used to show the adverse effects of river temperature increase both on natural and human systems. All results of this study along with the necessary source code are provided with this manuscript.

Adrien Michel et al.

Status: open (until 08 Jun 2021)

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Adrien Michel et al.

Model code and software

Models source code SLF/WSL

Adrien Michel et al.


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Short summary
This work presents the first extensive study of climate change impacts on rivers temperature in Switzerland. Results show that even for low emissions scenarios, water temperature increase will lead to adverse effect for both ecosystems and socioeconomic sectors (such as nuclear plant cooling) throughout the 21st century. For high emissions scenarios, the effect will be worsen. This study also shows that water warming in summer will be more important in Alpine regions than in lowlands.