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Propagation of forcing and model uncertainties on to hydrological drought characteristics in a multi-model century-long experiment in large river basins

Abstract

Recent climate change impact studies studies have presented conflicting results regarding the largest source of uncertainty in essential hydrological variables, especially streamflow and derived characteristics that describe the evolution of drought events. Part of the problem arises from the lack of a consistent framework to address compatible initial conditions for the impact models and a set of standardized historical and future forcings. The ISI-MIP2 project provides a good opportunity to advance our understanding of the propagation of forcing and model uncertainties on to century-long time series of drought characteristics using an ensemble of hydrological model (HM) projections across a broad range of climate scenarios and regions. To achieve this goal, we used six regional preconditioned hydrological models set up in seven large river basins: Upper-Amazon, Blue-Nile, Ganges, Upper-Niger, Upper-Mississippi, Rhine, and Upper-Yellow. These models were forced with bias-corrected outputs from five CMIP5 general circulation models (GCMs) under two extreme representative concentration pathway scenarios (i.e., RCP2.6 and RCP8.5) for the period 1971-2099. The simulated streamflow was transformed into a monthly runoff index (RI) to analyze the attributions of the GCM and HM uncertainties on to drought magnitudes and durations over time. The results indicated that GCM uncertainty mostly dominated over HM uncertainty for the projections of runoff drought characteristics, irrespective of the selected RCP and region. In general, the overall uncertainty increased with time. The uncertainty in the drought characteristics increased as the radiative forcing of the RCP increased, but the propagation of the GCM uncertainty on to a drought characteristic depended largely upon the hydro-climatic regime. Although our study emphasizes the need for multi-model ensembles for the assessment of future drought projections, the agreement between the GCM forcings was still too weak to draw conclusive recommendations.

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Acknowledgments

This study was carried out within Helmholtz-Association climate initiative REKLIM (www.reklim.de). This study was conducted under the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Inter-comparison Project. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling for the CMIP5 simulations.

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Correspondence to L. Samaniego.

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L. Samaniego and R. Kumar contributed equally.

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Hydrological Model Intercomparison for Climate Impact Assessment” edited by Valentina Krysanova and Fred Hattermann.

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Samaniego, L., Kumar, R., Breuer, L. et al. Propagation of forcing and model uncertainties on to hydrological drought characteristics in a multi-model century-long experiment in large river basins. Climatic Change 141, 435–449 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1778-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1778-y

Keywords

  • Hydrological Model
  • Hydrological Drought
  • Uncertainty Contribution
  • Drought Characteristic
  • Rhine Basin