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CR 23:233-246 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/cr023233

Assessing future discharge of the river Rhine using regional climate model integrations and a hydrological model

M. V. Shabalova1, W. P. A. van Deursen2, T. A. Buishand1,*

1Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), PO Box 201, 3730 AE De Bilt, The Netherlands
2Carthago Consultancy, Oostzeedijk Beneden 23a, 3062 VK Rotterdam, The Netherlands
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Climate change scenarios based on integrations of the Hadley Centre regional climate model HadRM2 are used to determine the change in the flow regime of the river Rhine by the end of the 21st century. Two scenarios are formulated: Scenario 1 accounting for the temperature increase (4.8°C on average over the basin) and changes in the mean precipitation, and Scenario 2 accounting additionally for changes in the temperature variance and an increase in the relative variability of precipitation. These scenarios are used as input into the RhineFlow hydrological model, a distributed water balance model of the Rhine basin that simulates river flow, soil moisture, snow pack and groundwater storage with a 10 d time step. Both scenarios result in higher mean discharges of the Rhine in winter (approx. +30%), but lower mean discharges in summer (approx. -30%), particularly in August (approx. -50%). RhineFlow simulations also indicate that the variability of the 10 d discharges increases significantly, even if the variability of the climatic inputs remains unchanged. The annual maximum discharge increases in magnitude throughout the Rhine and tends to occur more frequently in winter, thus suggesting an increasing risk of winter floods. This is especially pronounced in Scenario 2. At the Netherlands-German border, the magnitude of the 20 yr maximum discharge event increases by 14% in Scenario 1 and by 29% in Scenario 2; the present-day 20 yr event tends to reappear every 5 yr in Scenario 1 and every 3 yr in Scenario 2. The frequency of occurrence of low and very low flows increases, in both scenarios alike.

KEY WORDS: Climate change impact · Regional climate model · Climate change scenarios · Rhine discharge · Extreme river flows

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