, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 273-299

Estimating the Impact of Global Change on Flood and Drought Risks in Europe: A Continental, Integrated Analysis

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Abstract

Most studies on the impact of climate change on regional water resources focus on long-term average flows or mean water availability, and they rarely take the effects of altered human water use into account. When analyzing extreme events such as floods and droughts, the assessments are typically confined to smaller areas and case studies. At the same time it is acknowledged that climate change may severely alter the risk of hydrological extremes over large regional scales, and that human water use will put additional pressure on future water resources. In an attempt to bridge these various aspects, this paper presents a first-time continental, integrated analysis of possible impacts of global change (here defined as climate and water use change) on future flood and drought frequencies for the selected study area of Europe. The global integrated water model WaterGAP is evaluated regarding its capability to simulate high and low-flow regimes and is then applied to calculate relative changes in flood and drought frequencies. The results indicate large ‘critical regions’ for which significant changes in flood or drought risks are expected under the proposed global change scenarios. The regions most prone to a rise in flood frequencies are northern to northeastern Europe, while southern and southeastern Europe show significant increases in drought frequencies. In the critical regions, events with an intensity of today's 100-year floods and droughts may recur every 10–50 years by the 2070s. Though interim and preliminary, and despite the inherent uncertainties in the presented approach, the results underpin the importance of developing mitigation and adaptation strategies for global change impacts on a continental scale.