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Climate change impacts on South American water balance from a continental-scale hydrological model driven by CMIP5 projections


South America contributes to roughly 30% of global runoff to the oceans. Because the regional economy and biodiversity depend significantly on its water resources, assessing potential climate change impacts on the continental water balance is crucial to support water management planning. Here we evaluate the mean alterations of water balance variables and river discharge in South America by the end of this century using two different GHG scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5). An ensemble comprising 25 global climate models (GCM) from CMIP5 is used to force a continental-scale hydrologic-hydrodynamic model developed for that region. A negative signal with respect to changes in precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff is observed on most of the continent. Major decreases in the annual mean discharge are expected for the Orinoco, Tocantins, and Amazon basins, which would be around 8–14% at least (statistically significant – RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively). Only the Uruguay Basin presents a positive trend for the mean discharge.

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We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups for producing and making available their model output. This paper results related to streamflow are summarized on the South America Climate Change Impacts on water resources (SACCI) available at


This work is part of the project “Desenvolvimento do Modelo Regional do Sistema Terrestre ETA e Geração de Cenários de Mudanças Climáticas e de Usos da Terra visando Estudos de Impacto Sobre os Recursos Hídricos” funded by the Brazilian National Water Agency (ANA) and the “Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior” (CAPES). It is also included on the project SAFAS “South America Flood Awareness System” funded by the “Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq)”.

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Correspondence to João Paulo Lyra Fialho Brêda.

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Brêda, J.P.L.F., de Paiva, R.C.D., Collischon, W. et al. Climate change impacts on South American water balance from a continental-scale hydrological model driven by CMIP5 projections. Climatic Change 159, 503–522 (2020).

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  • Water resources
  • South America
  • Impacts
  • Climate change