Articles | Volume 27
28 Sep 2010
 | 28 Sep 2010

How does climate change affect mesoscale catchments in Switzerland? – a framework for a comprehensive assessment

N. Köplin, D. Viviroli, B. Schädler, and R. Weingartner

Abstract. Within the framework of this study we identify mesoscale catchments in Switzerland that exhibit sensitivity towards a change in climate with a focus on alterations of the water balance and peak flow conditions. For this study, the hydrological modelling system PREVAH is used, which is a semi-distributed and conceptual yet process-oriented model forced with hourly meteorological input on basis of a spatial resolution of 500×500 m2. We calibrate the model where measured discharge records are available and transfer the calibrated model parameters to ungauged catchments through regionalisation, to arrive at a comprehensive set of model parameters for the entire area of Switzerland. To assess future changes, we apply an extensive set of 16 Regional Climate Models (RCMs) to the catchments. The RCM data are downscaled to a dense network of meteorological stations for the period from 2021 to 2050 using the Delta Change Approach. This downscaling method incorporates a bias correction of the RCM output and provides change rates and values for precipitation and temperature.

In the present paper we describe the application of a calibration and regionalisation procedure developed previously for Northern Alpine catchments to Southern catchments. The necessity to differentiate between a Northern and a Southern Alpine region, with their distinct climatologic and physiogeographic features, has proved true as the calibrated parameter sets show systematic differences between those regions, e.g. for the runoff forming parameters percolation rate (PERC) or storage time for quick runoff (KOH). For the Southern Alpine area, we calibrated two thirds of the available catchments, i.e. 23 out of 36, successfully for standard and flood conditions according to a combined model score of a linear and logarithmic Nash-Sutcliffe-Efficiency (NSE, NSEln) and a mean annual volumetric deviation (VDa). The rate of successfully calibrated catchments is rather small in comparison with the results for the Northern Alpine catchments, where 140 out of 159 calibrations have been successful, and the distribution of the Southern catchments is more irregular. However, as the median NSE and NSEln as well as the range of VDa show an overall good model fit, a successful regionalisation may be expected. Next steps are the regionalisation of the Southern Alpine model parameters and the application of climate scenarios to the complete set of catchments, i.e. about 200 Swiss mesoscale catchments with an average area of 150 km2. Thus we can identify process-based relationships between climate sensitivity and catchment characteristics and provide quantitative information on future water balance and peak flow conditions of Swiss mesoscale catchments.