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Impact of climate change on hydrological regimes and water resources management in the Rhine Basin

Author(s): Middelkoop H, Daamen K, Gellens D, Grabs W, Kwadijk JCJ, et al.


The International Commission for the Hydrology of the Rhine basin (CHR) hascarried out a researchproject to assess the impact of climate change on the river flow conditionsin the Rhine basin. Along abottom-up line, different detailed hydrological models with hourly and dailytime steps have beendeveloped for representative sub-catchments of the Rhine basin. Along atop-down line, a water balancemodel for the entire Rhine basin has been developed, which calculates monthlydischarges and which wastested on the scale of the major tributaries of the Rhine. Using this set ofmodels, the effects of climatechange on the discharge regime in different parts of the Rhine basin werecalculated using the results ofUKHI and XCCC GCM-experiments. All models indicate the same trends in thechanges: higher winterdischarge as a result of intensified snow-melt and increased winterprecipitation, and lower summerdischarge due to the reduced winter snow storage and an increase ofevapotranspiration. When the resultsare considered in more detail, however, several differences show up. These canfirstly be attributed todifferent physical characteristics of the studied areas, but different spatialand temporal scales used in themodelling and different representations of several hydrological processes(e.g., evapotranspiration,snow melt) are responsible for the differences found as well. Climate changecan affect various socio-economicsectors. Higher temperatures may threaten winter tourism in the lower wintersport areas. The hydrologicalchanges will increase flood risk during winter, whilst low flows during summerwill adversely affectinland navigation, and reduce water availability for agriculture and industry.Balancing the required actionsagainst economic cost and the existing uncertainties in the climate changescenarios, a policy of `no-regretand flexibility' in water management planning and design is recommended, whereanticipatory adaptivemeasures in response to climate change impacts are undertaken in combinationwith ongoing activities.

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