Relative effects of multi-decadal climatic variability and changes in the mean and variability of climate due to global warming: future streamflows in Britain
Journal of Hydrology, 270, (3-4), . (doi:10.1016/S0022-1694(02)00288-3).
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Climate change impact assessments conventionally assess just the implications of a change in mean climate due to global warming. This paper compares such effects of such changes with those due to natural multi-decadal variability, and also explores the effects of changing the year-to-year variability in climate as well as the mean. It estimates changes in mean monthly flows and a measure of low flow (the flow exceeded 95% of the time) in six catchments in Britain, using the UKCIP98 climate change scenarios and a calibrated hydrological model. Human-induced climate change has a different seasonal effect on flows than natural multi-decadal variability (an increase in winter and decrease in summer), and by the 2050s the climate change signal is apparent in winter and, in lowland Britain, in summer. Superimposing natural multi-decadal variability onto the human-induced climate change increases substantially the range in possible future streamflows (in some instances counteracting the climate change signal), with important implications for the development of adaptation strategies. Increased year-to-year variability in climate leads to slight increases in mean monthly flows (relative to changes due just to changes in mean climate), and slightly greater decreases in low flows. The greatest effect on low flows occurs in upland catchments.
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