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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 11, issue 6
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1769–1785, 2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: 11th Plinius Conference on Mediterranean Storms

Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1769–1785, 2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 21 Jun 2011

Research article | 21 Jun 2011

Evaluation of future hydrological cycle under climate change scenarios in a mesoscale Alpine watershed of Italy

B. Groppelli, A. Soncini, D. Bocchiola, and R. Rosso B. Groppelli et al.
  • Dept. of Hydrologic, Roads, Environmental and Surveying Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy

Abstract. We investigate future (2045–2054) hydrological cycle of the snow fed Oglio (≈1800 km2) Alpine watershed in Northern Italy. A Stochastic Space Random Cascade (SSRC) approach is used to downscale future precipitation from three general circulation models, GCMs (PCM, CCSM3, and HadCM3) available within the IPCC's data base and chosen for this purpose based upon previous studies. We then downscale temperature output from the GCMs to obtain temperature fields for the area. We also consider a projected scenario based upon trends locally observed in former studies, LOC scenario. Then, we feed the downscaled fields to a minimal hydrological model to build future hydrological scenarios. We provide projected flow duration curves and selected flow descriptors, giving indication of expected modified (against control run for 1990–1999) regime of low flows and droughts and flood hazard, and thus evaluate modified peak floods regime through indexed flood. We then assess the degree of uncertainty, or spread, of the projected water resources scenarios by feeding the hydrological model with ensembles projections consistent with our deterministic (GCMs + LOC) scenarios, and we evaluate the significance of the projected flow variables against those observed in the control run. The climate scenarios from the adopted GCMs differ greatly from one another with respect to projected precipitation amount and temperature regimes, and so do the projected hydrological scenarios. A relatively good agreement is found upon prospective shrinkage and shorter duration of the seasonal snow cover due to increased temperature patterns, and upon prospective increase of hydrological losses, i.e. evapotranspiration, for the same reason. However, precipitation patterns are less consistent, because HadCM3 and PCM models project noticeably increased precipitation for 2045–2054, whereas CCSM3 provides decreased precipitation patterns therein. The LOC scenario instead displays unchanged precipitation. The ensemble simulations indicate that several projected flow variables under the considered scenarios are significantly different from their control run counterparts, and also that snow cover seems to significantly decrease in duration and depth. The proposed hydrological scenarios eventually provide a what-if analysis, giving a broad view of the possible expected impacts of climate change within the Italian Alps, necessary to trigger the discussion about future adaptation strategies.

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