Modelling the hydrological impacts of climate change on UK lowland wet grassland

Thompson, J. R.; Gavin, H.; Refsgaard, A.; Refstrup Sørenson, H. and Gowing, D. J. (2009). Modelling the hydrological impacts of climate change on UK lowland wet grassland. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 17(5) pp. 503–523.



Hydrological impacts of climate change upon the Elmley Marshes, southeast England, are simulated using a coupled hydrological/hydraulic model developed using MIKE SHE/MIKE 11 and calibrated to contemporary conditions. Predicted changes in precipitation, temperature, radiation and wind speed from the UK Climate Impacts Programme associated with four emissions scenarios for the 2050s are used to modify precipitation and potential evapotranspiration data. For each emissions scenario two sets of potential evapotranspiration data are derived, one using changes in temperature (PETtemp), the other incorporating changes in temperature, radiation and wind speed (PETtrws). Results indicate drier conditions through the progressively higher emissions scenarios when compared to contemporary conditions. Changes are particularly pronounced when using PETtrws. Summer water tables are lower (PETtemp 0.01�0.08 m; PETtrws 0.07�0.27 m) and the duration of high winter water tables is reduced. Although water tables still intercept the surface in winter when using PETtemp, this ceases when PETtrws is employed. Summer ditch water levels for the PETtemp scenarios are lower (0.01�0.21 m) and in dry winters they do not reach mean field level. Under the PETtrws scenarios summer and winter ditch water levels are lower by on average 0.21 and 0.30 m, respectively. Levels never reach the elevation of the marsh surface. Lower groundwater and ditch water levels result in declines in the magnitude and duration of surface inundation which is virtually eliminated with the PETtrws scenarios. The changes in hydrological conditions simulated by the model are of sufficiently fine resolution to infer ecological impacts which are likely to include the loss of some grassland species adapted to high water tables. Reductions in the extent of surface water in spring, especially for the PETtrws scenarios, are likely to reduce suitability for wading birds including lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and redshank (Tringa totanus) for which the marshes are internationally renowned.

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