Catchment sensitivity to changing climate conditions: the importance of landscape characteristic

Monday, 15 December 2014: 5:30 PM
Claudia Teutschbein1, Reinert Karlsen1, Thomas Grabs1, Hjalmar Laudon2 and Kevin H Bishop1, (1)Uppsala University, Earth Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, (2)SLU Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Umeå, Umeå, Sweden
The scientific literature is full of studies analyzing future climate change impacts on hydrology with focus on individual catchments. However, we recently found that hydrologic behavior and specific discharge vary considerably even in neighboring and rather similar catchments under current climate conditions and that these variations are related to landscape characteristics. Therefore we hypothesize that these landscape characteristics also play a fundamental role for the sensitivity of a catchment to changing climate conditions. We analyzed the hydrological response of 14 neighboring catchments in Northern Sweden with slightly different topography, land cover, size and geology. Current (1981-2010) and future (2061-2090) streamflow was simulated with the HBV light model. Climate projections were based on 14 regional climate models (ENSEMBLES EU project) and bias-corrected with a distribution-mapping approach. Our simulations revealed that future spring flood peaks will occur much earlier and decrease by 13 to 32 %, whereas winter base flows will increase slightly. These changes are somewhat expected and mainly triggered by a projected increase in winter temperature, which leads to less snow accumulation on the ground. However, these values also highlight that there is a large variability amongst the catchments in their hydrological response to the same future climate conditions. For example, spring flood peaks in catchments without wetlands decrease by only 13 to 15 %, whereas catchments with wetlands show a spring flood peak reduction of 20 to 32 %. In addition to wetlands, we also identified lakes, peat soils and higher elevations as factors that seem to cause a stronger hydrological response to the climate change signal, whereas catchments dominated by forests, steeper slopes and till soils seem to be less strongly affected by a changing climate. Therefore, our results suggest that the sensitivity of catchments to future climate conditions is strongly linked to landscape characteristics.