Potential evapotranspiration method influence on climate change impacts on river flow: a mid-latitude case study

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Projected changes in 21st century climate are likely to impact water resources substantially, although much uncertainty remains as to the nature of such impacts. A relatively under-explored source of uncertainty is the method by which current and scenario evapotranspiration (ET) are estimated. Using the Waikaia River (New Zealand) as a case study, the influence of a potential ET (PET) method is investigated for a scenario of a 2°C increase in global mean temperature (the presumed threshold of ‘dangerous’ climate change). Six PET methods are investigated, with five general circulation models (GCMs) used to provide an indication of GCM uncertainty. The HBV-Light hydrological model is used to simulate river runoff. Uncertainty in scenario PET between methods is generally greater than between GCMs, but the reverse is found for runoff. The cause of the reduction in uncertainty from PET to runoff is unclear: the catchment is not water-limited during the summer half-year, indicating that it is not because of actual ET failing to reach the potential rate. Irrespective of the cause, these results stand in contrast to previous estimations of relatively high sensitivity of runoff projections to PET methods, indicating that further work is required to understand the controls on this source of uncertainty.

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