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Modelling the hydrological impacts of climate change on UK lowland wet grassland

Abstract

Hydrological impacts of climate change upon the Elmley Marshes, southeast England, are simulated using a coupled hydrological/hydraulic model developed using MIKE SHE/MIKE 11 and calibrated to contemporary conditions. Predicted changes in precipitation, temperature, radiation and wind speed from the UK Climate Impacts Programme associated with four emissions scenarios for the 2050s are used to modify precipitation and potential evapotranspiration data. For each emissions scenario two sets of potential evapotranspiration data are derived, one using changes in temperature (PETtemp), the other incorporating changes in temperature, radiation and wind speed (PETtrws). Results indicate drier conditions through the progressively higher emissions scenarios when compared to contemporary conditions. Changes are particularly pronounced when using PETtrws. Summer water tables are lower (PETtemp 0.01–0.08 m; PETtrws 0.07–0.27 m) and the duration of high winter water tables is reduced. Although water tables still intercept the surface in winter when using PETtemp, this ceases when PETtrws is employed. Summer ditch water levels for the PETtemp scenarios are lower (0.01–0.21 m) and in dry winters they do not reach mean field level. Under the PETtrws scenarios summer and winter ditch water levels are lower by on average 0.21 and 0.30 m, respectively. Levels never reach the elevation of the marsh surface. Lower groundwater and ditch water levels result in declines in the magnitude and duration of surface inundation which is virtually eliminated with the PETtrws scenarios. The changes in hydrological conditions simulated by the model are of sufficiently fine resolution to infer ecological impacts which are likely to include the loss of some grassland species adapted to high water tables. Reductions in the extent of surface water in spring, especially for the PETtrws scenarios, are likely to reduce suitability for wading birds including lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and redshank (Tringa totanus) for which the marshes are internationally renowned.

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Acknowledgments

This paper builds upon earlier research undertaken as part of the SHYLOC Project (System for HYdrology using Land Observation for model Calibration, Al-Khudhairy et al. 2001). The authors thank the other members of the SHYLOC team, in particular Delilah Al-Khudhairy and Iain Shepherd (JRC-Ispra). Assistance in the field was provided by Emma Durham, Alison Berry, and Alastair Graham. The Elmley Conservation Trust granted access to the field site and provided logistical support. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology—Wallingford loaned an automatic weather station for which particular thanks are extended to Mike Acreman. Landline Plus data are © Crown Copyright, Ordnance Survey and are an EDINA Digimap/JISC supplied service. The UKCIP02 Climate Scenario data are © Crown Copyright 2002. The data have been made available by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). DEFRA accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions in the data nor for any loss or damage directly or indirectly caused to any person or body by reason of, or arising out of any use of, these data.

Funding sources

The SHYLOC Project was funded by the European Commission’s Space Technology Programme under the 4th Framework Programme (Contract number ENV4-CT97-0516).

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Thompson, J.R., Gavin, H., Refsgaard, A. et al. Modelling the hydrological impacts of climate change on UK lowland wet grassland. Wetlands Ecol Manage 17, 503–523 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-008-9127-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-008-9127-1

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Hydrological/hydraulic modelling
  • Wet grassland
  • Wetlands