Uncertainty in Climate Change Projections of Discharge for the Mekong River Basin

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"The Mekong River Basin comprises a key regional resource in Southeast Asia for sectors that include agriculture, fisheries and electricity production. Here we explore the potential impacts of climate change on freshwater resources within the river basin. We quantify uncertainty in these projections associated with GCM structure and climate sensitivity, as well as from hydrological model parameter specification. This is achieved by running pattern-scaled GCM output through a semi-distributed hydrological model (SLURP) of the basin. These pattern-scaled GCM outputs allow investigation of specific thresholds of global climate change including the postulated 2 ºC threshold of "dangerous" climate change as simulated using outputs from seven different GCMs. Detailed analysis of results based on HadCM3 climate scenarios reveals a relatively small but non-linear response of annual river discharge to increasing global mean temperature, ranging from a 5.4% decrease to 4.5% increase. Intra-annual (monthly) changes in river discharge are greater (from ‑16% to +55%, with greatest decreases in July and August, greatest increases in May and June) and result from complex and contrasting intra-basin changes in precipitation, evaporation and snow storage/melt. Whilst overall results are highly GCM dependent (in both direction and magnitude), this uncertainty is primarily driven by differences in GCM projections of future precipitation. In contrast, there is strong consistency between GCMs in terms of both increased potential evapotranspiration and a shift to an earlier and less substantial snowmelt season. Indeed, in the upper Mekong (Lancang sub-basin), the temperature-related signal in discharge is strong enough to overwhelm the precipitation-related uncertainty in the direction of change in discharge, with scenarios from all GCMs leading to increased river flow from April-June, and decreased flow from July-August."
uncertainty, Mekong River region, climate change, water management