Hydro-climatic shifts in the Alpine region under a changing climate: trends, drivers detection and scale issues

Mallucci, Stefano (2018) Hydro-climatic shifts in the Alpine region under a changing climate: trends, drivers detection and scale issues. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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The impact of changing climate on the hydrological cycle in Alpine regions has attracted in the last decades a wealth of attention by the scientific community and decision makers. Indeed, the implications of changes in the intensity and in the temporal and spatial patterns of precipitation, temperature and other climatic forcing have been widely observed accompanied with an increased frequency of drought and flood events, and a general degradation of water quality and health of aquatic ecosystems. Accordingly, in the present thesis, the effect of changes in hydro-climatic variables on the hydrological cycle is investigated over a range of temporal and spatial scales. In particular, the research moves along two main directions: 1) changes in historical time series of streamflow, precipitation and temperature, recorded in the Adige River Basin (i.e., Northeastern Italy), are analyzed with a water balance approach and compared to those of other large European river basins (i.e., Ebro and Sava) in order to quantify alterations of the main hydrological fluxes due to climate change and water uses and to disentangle their reciprocal effects; 2) a framework for evaluating the hydrological coherence of available gridded meteorological datasets, including one developed in the first part of the thesis, is introduced and tested. Regarding the first line of research, hydro-climatic and water quality variables of some important European river basins have been analyzed in order to quantify the main alterations of streamflow and to understand the most important factors controlling them. Particular attention is drawn to the Adige River Basin (an Alpine catchment located in the North-East of Italy), for which in depth studies, data measures and analyses have been performed. At this purpose, advanced techniques, besides novel approaches, have been applied. In particular, statistical methods (i.e., Mann-Kendall trend tests, Sen’s slope estimates, multivariate data analyses and Kriging algorithms) have been used to assess the water budgets and the variations in time and space of the aforementioned variables. Disentangling climatic and human impacts on the hydrological fluxes is a difficult task and it has not been fully explored yet, since concurring drivers of hydrological alterations (e.g., climate and land use changes, hydropower and agricultural developments and increasing population) are intimately intertwined one to each other and combined in a complex nonlinear manner. At this purpose, spatial and temporal patterns of change in the hydrological cycle of the Adige River Basin have been identified by comparing annual and seasonal water budgets performed in four representative sub-basins (sized from 207 to 9,852 km2) characterized by different climatic and water uses conditions. A significant downward trend of streamflow is found in the lower part of the Adige since the ’70s , which can be attributed to the intense development of irrigated agriculture in the drainage area of the Noce River (one of the main tributaries of the Adige River). Conversely, headwater catchments showed a significant positive trend in streamflow due to a shift in the seasonal distribution of precipitation. These results suggest that climate change is the main driver only in headwater basins, while water uses overcome its effect along the main stream and the lower end of the tributaries. Therefore, a comparative analysis of recent trends in hydro-climatic parameters in three climatologically different European watersheds (i.e., the Adige, Ebro and Sava River Basins) has been performed. The main results suggest that the highest risk of increasing water scarcity refers to the Ebro, whereas the Adige shows better resilience to a changing climate. In the second part, this thesis deals with the uncertainty associated with climate datasets, that typically represents the largest part of the total uncertainty in hydrological modeling and, more in general, in climate change impact studies. In particular, this thesis describes a new framework for assessing the coherence of gridded meteorological datasets with streamflow observations (i.e., HyCoT - Hydrological Coherence Test). Application to the Adige catchment reveals that using inverse hydrological modeling allows testing the accuracy of gridded temperature and precipitation datasets and it may represent a tool for excluding those that are inconsistent with the hydrological response.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering
PhD Cycle:30
Subjects:Area 08 - Ingegneria civile e Architettura > ICAR/02 COSTRUZIONI IDRAULICHE E MARITTIME E IDROLOGIA
Repository Staff approval on:24 Apr 2018 15:35

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