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Cross‐scale intercomparison of climate change impacts simulated by regional and global hydrological models in eleven large river basins

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Ideally, the results from models operating at different scales should agree in trend direction and magnitude of impacts under climate change. However, this implies that the sensitivity to climate variability and climate change is comparable for impact models designed for either scale. In this study, we compare hydrological changes simulated by 9 global and 9 regional hydrological models (HM) for 11 large river basins in all continents under reference and scenario conditions. The foci are on model validation runs, sensitivity of annual discharge to climate variability in the reference period, and sensitivity of the long-term average monthly seasonal dynamics to climate change. One major result is that the global models, mostly not calibrated against observations, often show a considerable bias in mean monthly discharge, whereas regional models show a better reproduction of reference conditions. However, the sensitivity of the two HM ensembles to climate variability is in general similar. The simulated climate change impacts in terms of long-term average monthly dynamics evaluated for HM ensemble medians and spreads show that the medians are to a certain extent comparable in some cases, but have distinct differences in other cases, and the spreads related to global models are mostly notably larger. Summarizing, this implies that global HMs are useful tools when looking at large-scale impacts of climate change and variability. Whenever impacts for a specific river basin or region are of interest, e.g. for complex water management applications, the regional-scale models calibrated and validated against observed discharge should be used.

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This work has been conducted under the framework of ISIMIP, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with project funding reference number 01LS1201A. Responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the authors. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the respective climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. We also acknowledge the support of the Global Runoff Data Centre and of the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (S-10) of the Ministry of the Environment, Japan. This work was supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI (16H06291), and the Program for Risk Information on Climate Change supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture,Sports, Science, and Technology-Japan (MEXT).

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Correspondence to F. F. Hattermann.

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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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Hattermann, F.F., Krysanova, V., Gosling, S.N. et al. Cross‐scale intercomparison of climate change impacts simulated by regional and global hydrological models in eleven large river basins. Climatic Change 141, 561–576 (2017).

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