Temperature effects on the spatial structure of heavy rainfall modify catchment hydro-morphological response

Peleg, Nadav; Skinner, Chris; Fatichi, Simone; Molnar, Peter

Heavy rainfall is expected to intensify with increasing temperatures, which will likely affect rainfall spatial characteristics. The spatial variability of rainfall can affect streamflow and sediment transport volumes and peaks. Yet, the effect of climate change on the small-scale spatial structure of heavy rainfall and subsequent impacts on hydrology and geomorphology remain largely unexplored. In this study, the sensitivity of the hydro-morphological response to heavy rainfall at the small-scale resolution of minutes and hundreds of metres was investigated. A numerical experiment was conducted in which synthetic rainfall fields representing heavy rainfall events of two types, stratiform and convective, were simulated using a space-time rainfall generator model. The rainfall fields were modified to follow different spatial rainfall scenarios associated with increasing temperatures and used as inputs into a landscape evolution model. The experiment was conducted over a complex topography, a medium-sized (477‚ÄČkminline-formula2) Alpine catchment in central Switzerland. It was found that the responses of the streamflow and sediment yields are highly sensitive to changes in total rainfall volume and to a lesser extent to changes in local peak rainfall intensities. The results highlight that the morphological components are more sensitive to changes in rainfall spatial structure in comparison to the hydrological components. The hydro-morphological features were found to respond more to convective rainfall than stratiform rainfall because of localized runoff and erosion production. It is further shown that assuming heavy rainfall to intensify with increasing temperatures without introducing changes in the rainfall spatial structure might lead to overestimation of future climate impacts on basin hydro-morphology.

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Peleg, Nadav / Skinner, Chris / Fatichi, Simone / et al: Temperature effects on the spatial structure of heavy rainfall modify catchment hydro-morphological response. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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