4.8. Science and Information Needs
In the water sector, it is important to distinguish between the needs of those
who wish to estimate the potential magnitude of climate change impacts on hydrology
and water resourcesto meet IPCC concerns, for exampleand the more
pragmatic needs of water managers who need to consider how best to adapt to
climate change. The two sets of requirements are linked, but there are some
important differences in emphasis.
4.8.2. Estimating Future Impacts of Climate Change
Some climate change analysts are essentially concerned with estimating what
would actually happen under different climate futures: What are the impacts,
for example, of continued growth of emissions of GHGs at 1% yr -1 , and what would
be the impact of stabilizing CO2 concentrations at, say, 550 ppmv by 2150? How
do changes in variability affect the water environment? These impactsand
their coststhen could be compared with the impacts, costs, and benefits
of mitigation. Such studies, in principle, could allow identification of dangerous
levels of climate change. There also are important science questions concerning
the processes by which climate change might impact the water environment. For
example, how might flow pathways through soils change?
Such research questions need developments in the following areas:
- Creation of credible climate change scenarios. This involves improvements
to GCMs so that they simulate present climate and its multi-decadal variability
even better, development of conceptually sound downscaling techniques (in
the absence of high-resolution global climate models), and characterization
of potential changes in variability at time scales from daily to decadal.
These requirements are common to all impact sectors and (with the exception
of downscaling) are central to improving the understanding of climate change
in the most general sense.
- Characterization of natural climatic and hydrological variability. Potential
future climate changes resulting from increasing concentrations of GHGs need
to be placed in context by appreciation of natural climatic and
hydrological variability. Much needs to be learned about linkages between
different components of the climate system in different parts of the world,
which requires joint use of observational data (including remotely sensed
data), palaeoclimatic data, and model simulations. Palaeoclimatic and palaeohydrological
reconstructions can provide very useful information on the variability in
natural hydrological systems, as well as insights into nonlinear
relationships between climate forcing and hydrological response.
- Improved hydrological models. Particularly important is development and
application of process-based models of hydrological processes that include
realistic representations of processes that generate streamflow and recharge
and determine water quality. Key issues include development of models that
do not need catchment calibration (but may require remotely sensed inputs)
to assess the effects of climate change in parts of the world with limited
hydrological data and development of coupled climate-hydrology models (which
also are important for the improvement of climate model performance and for
seasonal forecasting). The international collaborative research efforts summarized
in Section 4.2.2 are extremely important.
- Characterization of uncertainty. How important are the different sources
of uncertaintyin emissions, global climate response, and regional climate
change for estimated effects of climate change? Is downscaling cost-effective,
given the wide range of changes in climate that might result from different
emissions scenarios, for example? What can ensemble climate model experiments
contribute? There has been little systematic analysis to date of the relative
importance of different sources of uncertainty.
- Impacts on real-world water systems. Section 4.5 notes
that there have been relatively few published studies on the impacts of climate
change on real-world water resources systems, and inferences about impacts
generally have been made from estimates of changes in streamflow alone. This
may give a very misleading impression of the actual impacts of change because
the characteristics of the water management system are a very important buffer
between hydrological effect and impact on users and the environment. Therefore,
more studies into real-world systems are needed.
- Effects of adaptation. Most impact studies have ignored adaptation by water
managers, and in opposition it often is asserted that water managers will
be able to adapt. However, how will managers make adaptation decisions in
practice on the basis of incomplete information, and what would be the effects
of inefficient adaptation on the impacts of climate change?