Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
River flow is a measure of overall fresh water availability in a river basin. Variations in river flow are determined mainly by the seasonality of precipitation and temperature, as well as by catchment characteristics such as geology, soils and land cover. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns due to climate change modify the annual water budget of river basins as well as the timing and seasonality of river flows. The consequent changes in water availability may adversely affect ecosystems and several socio-economic sectors including abstraction for drinking water, agriculture, industry, energy production and navigation. Extreme dry periods with low river flow events can have considerable economic, societal and environmental impacts.
- . Alcamo, Joseph, Martina Flörke, and Michael Märker. 2007. “Future Long-term Changes in Global Water Resources Driven by Socio-economic and Climatic Changes.” Hydrological Sciences Journal 52 (2) (April): 247–275. doi:10.1623/hysj.52.2.247. BAFU. 2012. Auswirkungen der Klimaänderung auf Wasserressourcen und Gewässer: Synthesebericht zum Projekt «Klimaänderung und Hydrologie in der Schweiz» (CCHydro). Bern: Bundesamt für Umwelt. Beniston, Martin, Markus Stoffel, and Margot Hill. 2011. “Impacts of climatic change on water and natural hazardsin the Alps: Can current water governance cope with future challenges? Examples from the European ‘“ACQWA”’ project.” Environmental Science and Policy 14 (7): 734–743. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2010.12.009. Birsan, Marius-Victor, Peter Molnar, Paolo Burlando, and Martin Pfaundler. 2005. “Streamflow trends in Switzerland.” Journal of Hydrology 314 (1-4) (November): 312–329. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2005.06.008. Dankers, Rutger, and Luc Feyen. 2009. “Flood hazard in Europe in an ensemble of regional climate scenarios.” Journal of Geophysical Research 114 (D16) (August 27). doi:10.1029/2008JD011523. http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2008JD011523.shtml. Milly, P. C. D., K. A. Dunne, and A. V. Vecchia. 2005. “Global Pattern of Trends in Streamflow and Water Availability in a Changing Climate.” Nature 438 (7066) (November 17): 347–350. doi:10.1038/nature04312. Rojas, R., L. Feyen, A. Bianchi, and A. Dosio. 2012. “Assessment of Future Flood Hazard in Europe Using a Large Ensemble of Bias Corrected Regional Climate Simulations.” Journal of Geophysical Research (in press). doi:10.1029/2012JD017461. Stahl, K., H. Hisdal, J. Hannaford, L. M. Tallaksen, H. A. J. van Lanen, E. Sauquet, S. Demuth, M. Fendekova, and J. Jódar. 2010. “Streamflow trends in Europe: evidence from a dataset of near-natural catchments.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 14 (12) (December 1): 2367–2382. doi:10.5194/hess-14-2367-2010. Stahl, K., H. Hisdal, L. Tallaksen, H. A.J. Lanen, J. Hannaford, and E. Sauquet. 2008. Trends in Low Flows and Streamflow Droughts Across Europe. Paris: UNESCO. http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/wurpubs/374150. Wilson, Donna, Hege Hisdal, and Deborah Lawrence. 2010. “Has Streamflow Changed in the Nordic Countries? – Recent Trends and Comparisons to Hydrological Projections.” Journal of Hydrology 394 (3–4) (November 26): 334–346. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2010.09.010.
- Trends in monthly stream flow
- Projected change in average annual and seasonal river flow
- Projected change in daily average river flow
- standard deviations per year
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Key policy question
What is the trend in mean river flow in different seasons across Europe?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Streamflow trends are calculated by the slopes of the Kendall-Theil robust line for standardized annual and monthly streamflow, as well as for summer low flow magnitude and timing. Streamflow records from 441 small catchments in 15 countries across Europe.
Projected change in mean annual and seasonal river flow between the climate change scenario (SRES A1B, 2071–2100) and the control period (1961–1990) are shown. Simulations with LISFLOOD based on an ensemble of 11 RCMs.
Projected change in daily average river flow between 1961–1990 (black line) and 2071–2100 (blue line) were simulated with LISFLOOD and driven by HIRHAM – HadAM3H/HadCM3 based on IPCC scenario A2.
Methodology for gap filling
- Stahl et al. (2010) Streamflow trends in Europe: evidence from a dataset of near-natural catchments. Stahl, K., Hisdal, H., Hannaford, J., Tallaksen, L. M., van Lanen, H. A. J., Sauquet, E., Demuth, S., Fendekova, M. and Jódar, J., Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 14(12), 2367–2382. doi:10.5194/hess-14-2367-2010
- Rojas et al. (2012) Assessment of Future Flood Hazard in Europe Using a Large Ensemble of Bias Corrected Regional Climate Simulations. Rojas, R., Feyen, L., Bianchi, A. and Dosio, A. Journal of Geophysical Research (in press). doi:10.1029/2012JD017461
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Detailed data on water quantity is often difficult to assess, and homogeneous time series are generally shorter than those for meteorological data. It may, therefore, require substantially more time before statistically significant changes in hydrological variables can be observed than for meteorological variables, especially with respect to extreme events (floods and droughts). Quantitative projections of changes in precipitation and river flows at the basin scale remain highly uncertain due to the limitations of climate models and to scaling issues between climate and hydrological models.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoWouter Vanneuville
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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