Modelling climate change impacts on water resources in mountain regions

Climate change impacts, such as rising temperatures, prolonged droughts and extreme precipitation, are expected to affect many areas, including mountain regions. A large consortium worked to develop advanced models to quantify and predict the impact of climate change primarily on surface water.

It is now widely accepted that human activities are capable of triggering climate change, with potentially significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts. Although the effects of the changing climate will be largely dependent on the region, it is of vital importance to devise tools for monitoring and predicting these effects.

Based on this, the EU-funded ACQWA (Assessment of climatic change and impacts on the quantity and quality of water) project was established. Thirty-seven partners worked together, focusing on water as a vital component of human, animal and plant communities.

Advanced modelling techniques were employed to quantify the influence of climatic change on river discharge and on water resource availability. Partners used case study regions in the European Alps, the Pyrenees, the Andes, and Central Asia to assess changes in temperature and precipitation and to develop regional climate projections of change. New remote sensing optical tools were created for simulating the response of snow and ice in mountains.

The impacts of climate change on various hydrological processes and on the incidence of extreme events in catchment areas were also analysed. The project concluded that changes in the hydrological characteristics of rivers originating in mountain regions will spread towards populated lowland regions. Therefore, researchers estimated changes in the quantity and seasonality of water on aquatic ecosystems, tourism, agriculture and the energy (hydropower) sectors.

ACQWA demonstrated the need for a more integrated and comprehensive approach to water use and management and to go beyond the conventional water basin management approach. It was shown that consideration should also be given to other socioeconomic factors and the way in which water policies interact with other policies (e.g., energy, agriculture) at the local, national and supra-national level. Future research should address inconsistencies between physical and socioeconomic data, which are collected by different bodies for different purposes. This would require the compilation of compatible data sets and conversion between different data formats. In addition, more research and policy initiatives are needed to improve the efficiency of water resource allocation through the use of economic flexibility mechanisms.

By understanding the implications of a changing climate, ACQWA partners have helped formulate appropriate policies for avoiding extreme situations and to optimise water governance.

last modification: 2015-09-09 15:31:55

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