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Streamflow response to regional climate model output in the mountainous watershed: a case study from the Swiss Alps

Abstract

Regional climate model (RCM) outputs are often used in hydrological modeling, in particular for streamflow forecasting. The heterogeneity of the meteorological variables such as precipitation, temperature, wind speed and solar radiation often limits the ability of the hydrological model performance. This paper assessed the sensitivity of RCM outputs from the PRUDENCE project and their performance in reproducing the streamflow. The soil and water assessment tool was used to simulate the streamflow of the Rhone River watershed located in the southwestern part of Switzerland, with the climate variables obtained from four RCMs. We analyzed the difference in magnitude of precipitation, maximum and minimum air temperature, and wind speed with respect to the observed values from the meteorological stations. In addition, we also focused on the impact of the grid resolution on model performance, by analyzing grids with resolutions of 50 × 50 and 25 × 25 km2. The variability of the meteorological inputs from various RCMs is quite severe in the studied watershed. Among the four different RCMs, the Danish Meteorological Institute provided the best performance when simulating runoff. We found that temperature lapse rate is significantly important in the mountainous snow and glacier dominated watershed as compared to other variables like precipitation, and wind speed for hydrological performance. Therefore, emphasis should be given to minimum and maximum temperature in the bias correction studies for downscaling climatic data for impact modeling in the mountainous snow and glacier dominated complex watersheds.

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Acknowledgments

Most of the work was done during the PhD program fellowship at University of Geneva with funding from EU FP 7 project ACQWA [Assessing climate change impact on water quality and quantity] under Grant Nr. 212250. We wish to thank the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss for providing the daily precipitation, maximum and minimum temperatures, and wind speed required for building the hydrological model. The geographic data was obtained from Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). We also acknowledge equally the ALPIQ and KW-MATTMARK hydropower companies for providing discharge and lake level data. The coordinates of the intake points were collected from the hydropower consulting engineers E-dric (www.e-dric.ch).

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Correspondence to Kazi Rahman.

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Rahman, K., Etienne, C., Gago-Silva, A. et al. Streamflow response to regional climate model output in the mountainous watershed: a case study from the Swiss Alps. Environ Earth Sci 72, 4357–4369 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-014-3336-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-014-3336-0

Keywords

  • RCM
  • SWAT
  • Grid size
  • Runoff
  • Hydrological model