Future shifts in extreme flow regimes in Alpine regions

Brunner, Manuela I.; Farinotti, Daniel; Zekollari, Harry; Huss, Matthias; Zappa, Massimiliano

Extreme low and high flows can have negative economic, social, and ecological effects and are expected to become more severe in many regions due to climate change. Besides low and high flows, the whole flow regime, i.e., annual hydrograph comprised of monthly mean flows, is subject to changes. Knowledge on future changes in flow regimes is important since regimes contain information on both extremes and conditions prior to the dry and wet seasons. Changes in individual low- and high-flow characteristics as well as flow regimes under mean conditions have been thoroughly studied. In contrast, little is known about changes in extreme flow regimes. We here propose two methods for the estimation of extreme flow regimes and apply them to simulated discharge time series for future climate conditions in Switzerland. The first method relies on frequency analysis performed on annual flow duration curves. The second approach performs frequency analysis of the discharge sums of a large set of stochastically generated annual hydrographs. Both approaches were found to produce similar 100-year regime estimates when applied to a data set of 19 hydrological regions in Switzerland. Our results show that changes in both extreme low- and high-flow regimes for rainfall-dominated regions are distinct from those in melt-dominated regions. In rainfall-dominated regions, the minimum discharge of low-flow regimes decreases by up to 50 %, whilst the reduction is 25 % for high-flow regimes. In contrast, the maximum discharge of low- and high-flow regimes increases by up to 50 %. In melt-dominated regions, the changes point in the other direction than those in rainfall-dominated regions. The minimum and maximum discharges of extreme regimes increase by up to 100 % and decrease by less than 50 %, respectively. Our findings provide guidance in water resource planning and management and the extreme regime estimates are a valuable basis for climate impact studies.


  1. Estimation of 100-year low- and high-flow regimes using annual flow duration curves and stochastically simulated discharge time series

  2. Both mean and extreme regimes will change under future climate conditions.

  3. The minimum discharge of extreme regimes will decrease in rainfall-dominated regions but increase in melt-dominated regions.

  4. The maximum discharge of extreme regimes will increase and decrease in rainfall-dominated and melt-dominated regions, respectively.



Brunner, Manuela I. / Farinotti, Daniel / Zekollari, Harry / et al: Future shifts in extreme flow regimes in Alpine regions. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


Rechteinhaber: Manuela I. Brunner et al.

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