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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-2019-448
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-448
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 16 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 16 Sep 2019

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

The effects of climatic anomalies on low flows in Switzerland

Marius G. Floriancic1, Wouter R. Berghuijs2, James W. Kirchner2,3, and Peter Molnar1 Marius G. Floriancic et al.
  • 1Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, 8093 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 3Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

Abstract. Large parts of Europe have faced extreme low river flows in recent summers (2003, 2011, 2015, 2018) with major economic and environmental consequences. Understanding the origins of extremes like these is important for water resources management. To reveal how weather drives low flows, we explore how deviations from mean seasonal climatic conditions (i.e. climatic anomalies) of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration shaped the occurrence and magnitude of the annual 7-day lowest flows (Qmin) across 380 Swiss catchments from 2000 through 2018. Most annual low flows followed periods of below average precipitation and above average potential evapotranspiration, and the most extreme low flows resulted from both of these drivers acting together. Extremely dry years saw simultaneous drought conditions across large parts of Europe, but low flow timing during these years was still spatially variable across Switzerland. Longer climatic anomalies led to lower low flows. Most low flows were typically preceded by climatic anomalies lasting up to two months, whereas low flows in the extreme years (2003, 2011, 2015, 2018) were associated with much longer-lasting climatic anomalies. Weather conditions on even longer time scales have been reported to sometimes affect river flow. However, across Switzerland, we found that precipitation totals in winter only slightly influenced the magnitude and timing of summer and autumn low flows. Our results provide insight into how precipitation and potential evapotranspiration jointly shape summer and winter low flows across Switzerland, and could potentially aid in assessing low-flow risks in similar mountain regions using seasonal weather forecasts.

Marius G. Floriancic et al.
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Marius G. Floriancic et al.
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Short summary
Low river flows affect societies and ecosystems. Here we study how precipitation and potential evapotranspiration shape low flows across a network of 380 Swiss catchments. Low flows in these rivers typically result from below-average precipitation and above-average potential evapotranspiration. Extreme low flows result from long periods of the combined effects of both drivers.
Low river flows affect societies and ecosystems. Here we study how precipitation and potential...
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