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Impact of climate evolution and land use changes on water yield in the ebro basin

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2011
Author Lopez-Moreno JI, Vicente-Serrano SM, Moran-Tejeda E, Zabalza J, Lorenzo-Lacruz J, Garcia-Ruiz JM,
Project Global Change and Mountain Regions: the Mountain Research Initiative Coordination Office
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Volume (Issue) 15(1)
Page(s) 311 - 322


In this study the climatic and hydrological trends across 88 sub-basins of the Ebro River basin were analyzed for the period 1950-2006. A new database of climate information and river flows for the entire basin facilitated a spatially distributed assessment of climate-runoff relationships. It constitutes the first assessment of water yield evolution across the whole Ebro basin, a very representative example of large Mediterranean rivers. The results revealed a marked decrease in river discharges in most of the sub-basins. Moreover, a number of changes in the seasonality of the river regime was found, resulting from dam regulation and a decrease in snowpack in the headwaters. Significant and positive trends in temperature were observed across most of the basin, whereas most of the precipitation series showed negative coefficients, although the decrease in magnitude was low. The time evolution of the residuals from empirical models that relate climate and runoff in each sub-basin provided evidence that climate alone does not explain the observed decrease in river discharge. Thus, changes in water yield are associated with an increase in evapotranspiration rates in natural vegetation, growth of which has expanded as a consequence of land abandonment in areas where agricultural activities and livestock pressure have decreased. In the lowlands of the basin the decrease in water yield has been exacerbated by increased water consumption for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses. Climate projections for the end of the 21st century suggest a reduced capacity for runoff generation because of increasing temperature and less precipitation. Thus, the maintenance of water supply under conditions of increasing demand presents a challenging issue requiring appropriate coordination amongst politicians and managers.