- Over the 20th century, annual river flows showed an increasing trend in northern parts of Europe, with increases mainly in winter, and a slightly decreasing trend in southern parts of Europe. These changes are linked to observed changes in precipitation patterns and temperature.
- Annual river flow is projected to decrease in southern and south-eastern Europe and increase in northern Europe, but absolute changes remain uncertain.
- Climate change is projected to result in strong changes in the seasonality of river flows across Europe. Summer flows are projected to decrease in most of Europe, also in regions where annual flows will increase.
- Regions in southern Europe which already suffer most from water stress are projected to be particularly vulnerable to reductions in water resources due to climate change. This will result in increased competition for available resources.
Modelled change in annual river flow between 1971-1998 and 1900-1970
Note: The map is based on an ensemble of 12 climate models and validated against observed river flows.
- Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) provided by National oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA)
Projected change in mean seasonal and annual river flow between 2071-2100 and the reference period 1961-1990
Note: Simulations with LISFLOOD driven by HIRHAM HadAM3H/HadCM3 based on IPCC SRES scenario A2.
Dankers, R.; Feyen, L., 2008a. Climate change impacts on river flow in Europe (manuscript in preparation).
In accordance with the observed changes in precipitation and temperature, there is some evidence for climate-induced changes in annual river flow, as well as in the seasonality of flow, in Europe during the 20th century. However, anthropogenic interventions in the catchment, such as groundwater abstraction, irrigation, river regulation, land-use changes and urbanisation, have considerably altered river flow regimes in large parts of Europe, confounding climate change detection studies.
In northern parts of Europe, mean annual river flow has in general increased (Lindstrom and Bergstrom, 2004; Milly et al., 2005). Increases occurred mainly in winter and spring (Hisdal et al., 2007), probably caused by a general temperature increase during recent decades in combination with increased winter precipitation in the northern regions. Significant increases in river flow have also been observed in Scotland at one third of the river gauging stations in the past three decades (Werritty, 2002), as well as in winter and autumn in western Britain, consistent with recent increases in winter rainfall and a positive North Atlantic Oscillation index (Dixon et al., 2006). However, some of these changes could be part of natural variability (Wade et al., 2005). In western and central Europe, annual and monthly mean river flow series appear to have been stationary over the 20th century (Wang et al., 2005). In mountainous regions of central Europe, however, the main identified trends are an increase in annual river flow due to increases in winter, spring and autumn river flow. In summer, both upward and downward trends have been detected (Birsan et al., 2005). In southern parts of Europe, a slightly decreasing trend in annual river flow has been observed (Milly et al., 2005).
Annual river flow is projected to decrease in southern and south-eastern Europe and increase in northern and north-eastern Europe (Arnell, 2004; Milly et al., 2005; Alcamo et al., 2007). Strong changes are also projected in the seasonality of river flows, with large differences across Europe. Winter and spring river flows are projected to increase in most parts of Europe, except for the most southern and south-eastern regions. In summer and autumn, river flows are projected to decrease in most of Europe, except for northern and north-eastern regions where autumn flows are projected to increase (Dankers and Feyen, 2008a). In snow-dominated regions, such as the Alps, Scandinavia and the Baltic, the fall in winter retention as snow, earlier snowmelt and reduced summer precipitation will reduce river flows in summer (Andreasson, et al., 2004; Jasper et al., 2004; Barnett et al., 2005), when demand is typically highest.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Modelled change in annual river flow between 1971-1998 and 1900-1970
- Projected change in mean seasonal and annual river flow between 2071-2100 and the reference period 1961-1990
- Projected change in daily average river flow between 2071-2100 and the reference period 1961-1990
Policy context and targets
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
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap fillinghttp://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/eea_report_2008_4/pp193-207CC2008_ch8_Data_gaps.pdf
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertaintyhttp://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/eea_report_2008_4/pp193-207CC2008_ch8_Data_gaps.pdf
No uncertainty has been specified
Global trends in streamflow and water availability
provided by National oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA)
Global Runoff Database
provided by Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 016
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoWouter Vanneuville
EEA Management Plan2008 2.3.1 (note: EEA internal system)
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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