River flow drought

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: CLIM 018
Created 11 Jul 2008 Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 04 Sep 2015
Note: new version is available!
Change in the severity of river flow droughts in Europe 1962-1990 Change in the severity of river flow droughts in France 1960-2000 Projected change in mean annual and summer minimum 7-day river flow between 2071-2100 and the reference period 1961-1990

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

Drought may refer to meteorological drought (precipitation well below average), hydrological drought (low river flows, lake and groundwater levels), agricultural drought (soil moisture deficit), environmental drought (impact on ecosystems) or socio-economic drought (impact on economic goods and services). The focus here is on hydrological drought, more specifically on river flow drought, as river flow is a measure of sustainable fresh water availability in a basin and is affected by climate change. River flow data are also more available than other hydrometric information such as groundwater recharge, surface water storage and soil moisture. Climate-induced trends in extreme low river flows are however often masked by land-use change, water management practices and extensive water withdrawals.
Prolonged droughts have considerable economic, societal and environmental impacts. They affect several sectors, such as energy production, both in terms of water availability for hydropower and cooling water for electricity generation, river navigation, agriculture, and public water supply.
Adverse effects of droughts and low river flow conditions can be mitigated on the supply side through the combined use of surface and groundwater, desalination of sea water, and water storage and transfer. Demand-side measures include improving water efficiency, metering, and water pricing. Shortages of water can be anticipated through effective monitoring and forecasting of future river flows and storage in reservoirs.

Scientific references

  • References Alcamo, J.; Döll, P.; Henrichs, T.; Kaspar, F.; Lehner, B.; Rösch, T. and Siebert, S., 2003. Global estimates of water withdrawals and availability under current and future business-as-usual conditions. Hydrological Sciences Journal 48: 339-348. Douville, H.; Chauvin, F.; Planton, S.; Royer, J.F.; Salas-Melia, D. and S. Tyteca, S., 2002. Sensitivity of the hydrological cycle to increasing amounts of greenhouse gasses and aerosols. Climate Dynamics 20: 45-68. Feyen, L. and Dankers, R., 2008. River flow drought in Europe in a future climate. Manuscript submitted to Global Environmental Change. Hanneford J. and Marsh, T., 2006. An assessment of trends in UK runoff and low flows using a network of undisturbed catchments. International Journal of Climatology 26: 1237-1253. Hisdal, H.; Stahl, K.; Tallaksen, L. M. and Demuth, S., 2001. Have droughts in Europe become more severe or frequent? International Journal of Climatology 21: 317-333. Lang, M.; Renard, B.; Sauquet, E.; Bois, P.; Dupeyrat, A.; Laurent, C.; Mestre, O.; Niel, H.; Neppel, L. and Gailhard, J., 2006. Climate Variability and Change -- Hydrological Impacts. IAHS Publ. 308. Lehner B.; Döll P.; Alcamo J.; Henrichs T. and Kaspar F., 2006. Estimating the impact of global change on flood and drought risks in Europe: a continental integrated analysis. Climatic Change 75: 273-299. Schröter, D.; Cramer, W.; Leemans, R.; Prentice, C.; Araújo, M. B.; Arnell, N. W.; Bondeau, A.; Bugmann, H.; Carter, T. R.; Gracia, C. A.; de la Vega-Leinert, A. C.; Erhard, M.; Ewert, F.; Glendining, M.; House, J. I.; Kankaanpää, S.; Klein, R. J. T.; Lavorel, S.; Lindner, M.; Metzger, M. J.; Meyer, J.; Mitchell, T. D.; Reginster, I.; Rounsevell, M.; Sabaté, S.; Sitch, S.; Smith, B.; Smith, J.; Smith, P.; Sykes, M. T.; Thonicke, K.; Thuiller, W.; Tuck, G.; Zaehle, S. and Zierl, B., 2005. Ecosystem Service Supply and Vulnerability to Global Change in Europe. Science 310 (5752): 1333-1337. Stuyfzand P. J.; Ruediger, R. L and Kristensen, P., 2007. Impact of climate change on groundwater. A background note for EEA produced by the EEA ETC/Water. Svensson, C.; Kundzewicz W. Z.; Maurer, T., 2005. Trend detection in river flow series: 2. Flood and low-flow index series. Hydrological Sciences Journal. 50: 811-824. UNEP, 2006. Geo Year Book 2006. An overview of our changing environment. van der Schrier, G.; Briffa, K. R.; Jones, P. D. and Osborn T. J., 2006. Summer moisture availability across Europe. Journal of Climate 19: 2818-2834.

Indicator definition

  • Change in the severity of river flow droughts in Europe 1962-1990
  • Change in the severity of river flow droughts in France 1960-2000
  • Projected change in mean annual and summer minimum 7-day river flow between 2071-2100 and the reference period 1961-1990



Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question



Methodology for indicator calculation


Methodology for gap filling


Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty


Data sets uncertainty


Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

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.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Wouter Vanneuville


Joint Research Centre (JRC)
European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 018
Version id: 1


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

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Data references used

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