Hydrological Modeling for Climate Change Impact Assessment : Transferring Large-Scale Information from Global Climate Models to the Catchment Scale

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University

Abstract: A changing climate can severely perturb regional hydrology and thereby affect human societies and life in general. To assess and simulate such potential hydrological climate change impacts, hydrological models require reliable meteorological variables for current and future climate conditions. Global climate models (GCMs) provide such information, but their spatial scale is too coarse for regional impact studies. Thus, GCM output needs to be downscaled to a finer scale either through statistical downscaling or through dynamic regional climate models (RCMs). However, even downscaled meteorological variables are often considerably biased and therefore not directly suitable for hydrological impact modeling. This doctoral thesis discusses biases and other challenges related to incorporating climate model output into hydrological studies and evaluates possible strategies to address them. An analysis of possible sources of uncertainty stressed the need for full ensembles approaches, which should become standard practice to obtain robust and meaningful hydrological projections under changing climate conditions. Furthermore, it was shown that substantial biases in current RCM simulations exist and that correcting them is an essential prerequisite for any subsequent impact simulation. Bias correction algorithms considerably improved RCM output and subsequent streamflow simulations under current conditions. In addition, differential split-sample testing was highlighted as a powerful tool for evaluating the transferability of bias correction algorithms to changed conditions. Finally, meaningful projections of future streamflow regimes could be realized by combining a full ensemble approach with bias correction of RCM output: Current flow regimes in Sweden with a snowmelt-driven spring flood in April will likely change to rather damped flow regimes that are dominated by large winter streamflows.

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