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Climatic Change

, Volume 147, Issue 3–4, pp 585–599 | Cite as

National-scale analysis of low flow frequency: historical trends and potential future changes

  • A. L. Kay
  • V. A. Bell
  • B. P. Guillod
  • R. G. Jones
  • A. C. Rudd
Article

Abstract

The potential impact of climate change on hydrological extremes is of increasing concern across the globe. Here, a national-scale grid-based hydrological model is used to investigate historical trends and potential future changes in low flow frequency across Great Britain. The historical analyses use both observational data (1891–2015) and ensemble data from a regional climate model (1900–2006). The results show relatively few significant trends in historical low flows (2- or 20-year return period), whether based on 7- or 30-day annual minima. Significant negative trends seen in some limited parts of the country when using observational data are generally not seen when using climate model data. The future analyses use climate model ensemble data for both near future and far future time periods (2020–2049 and 2070–2099 respectively), which are compared to a baseline sub-period from the historical ensemble (1975–2004). The results show future reductions in low flows, which are generally larger in the south of the country, at the higher (20-year) return period, and for the later time period. Reductions are more limited if the estimates of future potential evaporation include the effect of increased carbon dioxide concentrations on stomatal resistance. Such reductions in river flow could have significant impacts on the aquatic environment and on agriculture, and present a challenge for water managers, especially as reductions in water supply are likely to occur alongside increases in demand.

Keywords

Drought Low flows River flow Hydrology Great Britain 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This study is an outcome of MaRIUS (MAnaging the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of droughts and water Scarcity), funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Drought and Water Scarcity programme (NE/L010208/1). We thank the Met Office National Climate Information Centre (for the 5-km temperature data) and two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

10584_2018_2145_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.6 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1640 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. L. Kay
    • 1
  • V. A. Bell
    • 1
  • B. P. Guillod
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • R. G. Jones
    • 2
    • 5
  • A. C. Rudd
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology and HydrologyWallingfordUK
  2. 2.Environmental Change InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental DecisionsETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute for Atmospheric and Climate ScienceETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  5. 5.Met Office Hadley CentreExeterUK

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