Effects of climate anomalies on warm-season low flows in Switzerland

M.G. Floriancic, W.R. Berghuijs, T. Jonas, J.W. Kirchner, P. Molnar

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


© 2020 Massachussetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.Switzerland has faced extended periods of low river flows in recent years (2003, 2011, 2015 and 2018), with major economic and environmental consequences. Understanding the origins of events like these is important for water resources management. In this work, we provide data illustrating the individual and joint contributions of precipitation and evapotranspiration to low flows in both typical and dry years. To quantify how weather drives low flows, we explore how deviations from mean seasonal climate conditions (i.e., climate anomalies) of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration correlate with the occurrence and magnitude of annual 7 d lowest flows (Qmin) during the warm season (May through November) across 380 Swiss catchments from 2000 through 2018. Most warm-season low flows followed periods of below-average precipitation and above-average potential evapotranspiration, and the lowest low flows resulted from both of these drivers acting together. Low-flow timing was spatially variable across Switzerland in all years, including the driest (2003, 2011, 2015 and 2018). Low flows in these driest years were associated with much longer-lasting climate anomalies than the 2 month anomalies which preceded typical warm-season low flows in other years. We found that snow water equivalent and winter precipitation totals only slightly influenced the magnitude and timing of warm-season low flows in low-elevation catchments across Switzerland. Our results provide insight into how precipitation and potential evapotranspiration jointly shape warm-season low flows across Switzerland and potentially aid in assessing low-flow risks in similar mountain regions using seasonal weather forecasts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5423-5438
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


Acknowledgements. The project was funded by the Swiss Federal Office of the Environment (FOEN). We thank FOEN and the cantons of Aargau, Basel-Landschaft, Bern, Geneva, Graubünden, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud and Zurich for providing discharge data, the Swiss Federal Office of Meteorology (MeteoSwiss) for providing gridded climate data and the Swiss Federal Office of Topography (Swis-stopo) for providing geodata. We thank Anna Costa for additional analyses during the revision process and the editor, Kerstin Stahl, the four anonymous reviewers and Ryan Teuling and his students for their comments that greatly improved the original paper. Financial support. This research has been supported by

FundersFunder number
FOENPZ/Q391-2885, 06.0072
Swiss Federal Office of the Environment


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