Project

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Mountain water resources under climate change: A comprehensive highland-lowland assessment

Applicant Viviroli Daniel
Number 131464
Funding scheme Fellowships for advanced researchers
Research institution Civil and Environmental Engineering Imperial College London
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Start/End 01.02.2011 - 30.09.2011
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy

Keywords (7)

climate change; highland-lowland; mountain hydrology; hydrological modelling; water towers; global water resources; population dynamics

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Mountains are a key component of the global hydrological cycle, and they have high significance for the world's water resources. This significance is rooted in the disproportionately high and reliable amounts of runoff they provide, and in the favourable seasonal distribution of this runoff. As the quantitative knowledge about this crucial role is slowly increasing, it becomes clear that many regions, especially in the arid and semi-arid climate zone, are vulnerable for the changes in timing and amount of mountain runoff that are anticipated with climate change. In view of the large lowland populations potentially at risk for water scarcity, improvement of the still fragmentary knowledge of climate change impacts on water resources originating in mountains is urgently required to identify critical regions and pave the way for sustainable management of water resources.The present project will contribute to this vital issue by clarifying the role of mountain water resources for the adjacent lowlands, both for present as well as for anticipated future conditions. This will be approached in two main steps:First, the current knowledge of mountain water resources at global scale will be refined by considering seasonal (i.e. monthly) patterns, implementing more detailed water demand data and, above all, quantifying the dependence of lowland populations on mountain runoff.Second, the impact of climate change scenarios on mountain water resources will be examined and assessed comprehensively, also considering concurrent changes in the lowlands, including changes in water demand due to population growth. These global-scale analyses will be based on a macro-scale hydrological model that is run with an ensemble of climate projections.The project establishes an extensive set of analysis concepts for mountain hydrology and puts them in use as a starting point for process-based analyses that will yield a much more comprehensive overview of the significance of mountains for today's and tomorrow's water resources world-wide. The results are expected to make an impact on pressing societal and scientific issues in water resources and climate change and clarify the hydrological interdependencies between highlands and lowlands. Moreover, the methods and concepts developed will be readily useable as a basis for future research thanks to their flexibility and versatility.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Abstract

Mountains are a key component of the global hydrological cycle, and they have high significance for the world's water resources. This significance is rooted in the disproportionately high and reliable amounts of runoff they provide, and in the favourable seasonal distribution of this runoff. As the quantitative knowledge about this crucial role is slowly increasing, it becomes clear that many regions, especially in the arid and semi-arid climate zone, are vulnerable for the changes in timing and amount of mountain runoff that are anticipated with climate change. In view of the large lowland populations potentially at risk for water scarcity, improvement of the still fragmentary knowledge on climate change impacts on water resources originating in mountains is urgently required to identify critical regions and pave the way for sustainable management of water resources.The proposed project is designed to contribute to this vital issue and aims at clarifying the role of mountain water resources for the adjacent lowlands, both for the present as well as for the anticipated future. This will be approached with three main steps:First, the current knowledge about mountain water resources at global scale will be refined by considering seasonal (i.e. monthly) patterns, implementing reliable water demand data and, above all, quantifying the dependence of lowland populations on mountain runoff.Second, the impact of climate change scenarios on mountain water resources will be examined comprehensively and compared with concurrent changes in the lowlands. These global-scale analyses will be based on running a macro-scale hydrological model with an ensemble of climate projections.Third, a more detailed assessment of critical regions will be approached, using downscaling techniques for precipitation and temperature to increase reliability of the model results. This will be done for the pilot study area of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas and compared with a benchmark study for the European Alps.The project departs from original analysis concepts established recently by the applicant, extends them significantly and then puts them in use as a starting point for process-based analyses that will yield a much more comprehensive overview of the significance of mountains in today's and tomorrow's water resources world-wide. In addition, the use of downscaling approaches in the regional analyses combines up-to-date hydrological knowledge with climatological techniques and ensures that the project's results will be both innovative and reliable. This interdisciplinarity is also matched by prospects for mutual benefits and collaboration with researchers at the designated host institute, Imperial College London, which has excellent scientific capacity in both hydrology and climatology.The project's results are expected to make an impact on pressing societal and scientific issues in water resources and climate change and clarify the hydrological interdependencies between highlands and lowlands. Moreover, the methods and concepts developed in this project will be readily useable as a basis for future research thanks to their flexibility and versatility.
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