Key future impacts and vulnerabilities

3.4.1 Surface waters

Since the TAR, over 100 studies of climate change effects on river flows have been published in scientific journals, and many more have been reported in internal reports. However, studies still tend to be heavily focused on Europe, North America, and Australasia. Virtually all studies use a hydrological model driven by scenarios based on climate model simulations, with a number of them using SRES-based scenarios (e.g., Hayhoe et al., 2004; Zierl and Bugmann, 2005; Kay et al., 2006a). A number of global-scale assessments (e.g., Manabe et al., 2004a, b; Milly et al., 2005, Nohara et al., 2006) directly use climate model simulations of river runoff, but the reliability of estimated changes is dependent on the rather poor ability of the climate model to simulate 20th century runoff reliably.

Methodological advances since the TAR have focused on exploring the effects of different ways of downscaling from the climate model scale to the catchment scale (e.g., Wood et al., 2004), the use of regional climate models to create scenarios or drive hydrological models (e.g., Arnell et al., 2003; Shabalova et al., 2003; Andreasson et al., 2004; Meleshko et al., 2004; Payne et al., 2004; Kay et al., 2006b; Fowler et al., 2007; Graham et al., 2007a, b; Prudhomme and Davies, 2007), ways of applying scenarios to observed climate data (Drogue et al., 2004), and the effect of hydrological model uncertainty on estimated impacts of climate change (Arnell, 2005). In general, these studies have shown that different ways of creating scenarios from the same source (a global-scale climate model) can lead to substantial differences in the estimated effect of climate change, but that hydrological model uncertainty may be smaller than errors in the modelling procedure or differences in climate scenarios (Jha et al., 2004; Arnell, 2005; Wilby, 2005; Kay et al., 2006a, b). However, the largest contribution to uncertainty in future river flows comes from the variations between the GCMs used to derive the scenarios.

Figure 3.3 provides an indication of the effects of future climate change on long-term average annual river runoff by the 2050s, across the world, under the A2 emissions scenario and different climate models used in the TAR (Arnell, 2003a). Obviously, even for large river basins, climate change scenarios from different climate models may result in very different projections of future runoff change (e.g., in Australia, South America, and Southern Africa).

HadCM3 (A2a)

Change in average annual runoff: 2050s A2


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