Assessing the Hydrological Significance of the World’s Mountains

Viviroli, Daniel; Weingartner, Rolf; Messerli, Bruno (2003). Assessing the Hydrological Significance of the World’s Mountains. Mountain Research and Development, 23(1), pp. 32-40. International Mountain Society 10.1659/0276-4741(2003)023[0032:ATHSOT]2.0.CO;2

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Mountains and highlands are often called the world’s natural “water towers” because they provide essential freshwater for populations both upstream and downstream. Despite this, knowledge about the significance of mountains in the hydrological cycle is still uncertain. The present article takes a regional approach, using case studies to assess and compare the hydrological significance of mountains. Methods are developed based on the experience gained in the Rhine River catchment and then applied to 19 additional selected catchments worldwide, with the river Euphrates serving as an example. The resulting comparative assessment serves as an elaboration on the hydrological significance of the world’s mountains and underscores their function as sources of large, reliable, and compensatory
discharge. The mean annual mountain contribution to total discharge in the river basins included in our case studies is disproportionately high, at 63%, with a ean relative mountain area of only 32%. Furthermore, distinctions can be made according to climatic regions,
clearly highlighting the vital role of mountain runoff in lowlands in arid and semiarid areas. This means taking mountains and highlands more carefully into account in terms of monitoring and scientific research and especially in terms of watershed management and conflict management.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Hydrology
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Viviroli, Daniel; Weingartner, Rolf and Messerli, Bruno


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




International Mountain Society




Deborah Nathalie Jutzi

Date Deposited:

21 Oct 2019 19:07

Last Modified:

22 Oct 2019 18:57

Publisher DOI:





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