River runoff in Switzerland in a changing climate – runoff regime changes and their time of emergence

Muelchi, Regula; Rössler, Ole; Schwanbeck, Jan; Weingartner, Rolf; Martius, Olivia (2021). River runoff in Switzerland in a changing climate – runoff regime changes and their time of emergence. Hydrology and earth system sciences, 25(6), pp. 3071-3086. European Geosciences Union EGU 10.5194/hess-25-3071-2021

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Assessments of climate change impacts on runoff regimes are essential to climate change adaptation and mitigation planning. Changing runoff regimes and thus changing seasonal patterns of water availability strongly influence various economic sectors such as agriculture, energy production, and fishery and also affect river ecology. In this study, we use new transient hydrological scenarios driven by the most up-to-date local climate projections for Switzerland, the Swiss Climate Change Scenarios. These provide detailed information on changes in runoff regimes and their time of emergence for 93 rivers in Switzerland under three Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs): RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5. These transient scenarios also allow changes to be framed as a function of global mean temperature.

The new projections for seasonal runoff changes largely confirm the sign of changes in runoff from previous hydrological scenarios with increasing winter runoff and decreasing summer and autumn runoff. Spring runoff is projected to increase in high-elevation catchments and to decrease in lower-lying catchments. Despite the increases in winter and some increases in spring, the annual mean runoff is projected to decrease in most catchments. Compared to lower-lying catchments, runoff changes in high-elevation catchments (above 1500 m a.s.l.) are larger in winter, spring, and summer due to the large influence of reduced snow accumulation and earlier snowmelt and glacier melt. The changes in runoff and the agreement between climate models on the sign of change both increase with increasing global mean temperatures and higher-emission scenarios. This amplification highlights the importance of climate change mitigation.

The time of emergence is the time when the climate signal emerges significantly from natural variability. Under RCP8.5, times of emergence were found early, before the period 2036–2065, in winter and summer for catchments with mean altitudes above 1500 m a.s.l. Significant changes in catchments below 1500 m a.s.l. emerge later in the century. Not all catchments show significant changes in the distribution of seasonal means; thus, no time of emergence could be determined in these catchments. Furthermore, the significant changes of seasonal mean runoff are not persistent over time in some catchments due to nonlinear changes in runoff.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Impact
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Mülchi, Regula Isabelle; Schwanbeck, Jan; Weingartner, Rolf and Romppainen-Martius, Olivia


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 910 Geography & travel




European Geosciences Union EGU


[70] Bundesamt fur Umwelt (BAFU)


[245] Mobiliar Lab für Naturrisiken Official URL




Yannick Barton

Date Deposited:

21 Jul 2021 13:49

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:52

Publisher DOI:






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