Impacts of climate change on European hydrology at 1.5, 2 and 3 degrees mean global warming above preindustrial level

Chantal Donnelly*, Wouter Greuell, Jafet Andersson, Dieter Gerten, Giovanna Pisacane, Philippe Roudier, Fulco Ludwig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

185 Citations (Scopus)


Impacts of climate change at 1.5, 2 and 3 °C mean global warming above preindustrial level are investigated and compared for runoff, discharge and snowpack in Europe. Ensembles of climate projections representing each of the warming levels were assembled to describe the hydro-meteorological climate at 1.5, 2 and 3 °C. These ensembles were then used to force an ensemble of five hydrological models and changes to hydrological indicators were calculated. It is seen that there are clear changes in local impacts on evapotranspiration, mean, low and high runoff and snow water equivalent between a 1.5, 2 and 3 °C degree warmer world. In a warmer world, the hydrological impacts of climate change are more intense and spatially more extensive. Robust increases in runoff affect the Scandinavian mountains at 1.5 °C, but at 3 °C extend over most of Norway, Sweden and northern Poland. At 3 °C, Norway is affected by robust changes in all indicators. Decreases in mean annual runoff are seen only in Portugal at 1.5 °C warming, but at 3 °C warming, decreases to runoff are seen around the entire Iberian coast, the Balkan Coast and parts of the French coast. In affected parts of Europe, there is a distinct increase in the changes to mean, low and high runoff at 2 °C compared to 1.5 °C, strengthening the case for mitigation to lower levels of global warming. Between 2 and 3 °C, the changes in low and high runoff levels continue to increase, but the changes to mean runoff are less clear. Changes to discharge in Europe’s larger rivers are less distinct due to the lack of homogenous and robust changes across larger river catchments, with the exception of Scandinavia where discharges increase with warming level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-26
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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