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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-366
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-366
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 20 Aug 2019

Submitted as: research article | 20 Aug 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Stream temperature evolution in Switzerland over the last 50 years

Adrien Michel1,2, Tristan Brauchli1,3,4, Michael Lehning1,2, Bettina Schaefli3, and Hendrik Huwald1,2 Adrien Michel et al.
  • 1School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland
  • 2WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF), Davos, Switzerland
  • 3Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 4Centre de Recherche sur l'Environnement Alpin (CREALP), Sion, Switzerland

Abstract. Stream temperature is a key hydrological variable for ecosystem and water resources management and is particularly sensitive to climate warming. Despite the wealth of meteorological and hydrological data, few studies have quantified observed stream temperature trends in the Alps. This study presents a detailed analysis of stream temperatures in 52 catchments in Switzerland, a country covering a wide range of alpine and lowland hydrological regimes. The influence of discharge, precipitation, air temperature and upstream lakes on stream temperatures and their temporal trends is analysed from multi-decade to seasonal time scales. Stream temperature has significantly increased over the past 5 decades, with positive trends for all four seasons. The mean trends for the last 20 years are +0.37 °C per decade for water temperature, resulting from joint effects of trends in air temperature (+0.39 °C per decade) in discharge (−10.1 % per decade) and in precipitation (−9.3 % per decade). For a longer time period (1979–2018), the trends are +0.33 °C per decade for water temperature, +0.46 °C per decade for air temperature, −3.0 % per decade for discharge and −1.3 % per decade for precipitation. We furthermore show that in alpine streams, snow and glacier melt compensates air temperature warming trends in a transient way. Lakes, on the contrary have a strengthening effect on downstream water temperature trends at all elevations. The identified stream temperature trends are furthermore shown to have critical impacts on ecological temperature thresholds, especially in lowland rivers, suggesting that these are becoming more vulnerable to the increasing air temperature forcing. Resilient alpine rivers are expected to become more vulnerable to warming in the near future due to the expected reductions in snow- and glacier melt inputs.

Adrien Michel et al.
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Short summary
This study constitutes the first comprehensive analysis of river temperature in Switzerland combined with discharge and key meteorological variables such as air temperature and precipitation. It is also the first study discussing at large scale seasonal behavior of stream temperature in Switzerland. This study show the clear increase of river temperature in Switzerland in the last decades. The present study may serve as a solid reference for future climate change scenario simulations.
This study constitutes the first comprehensive analysis of river temperature in Switzerland...
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