A novel integrated modelling framework to assess the impacts of climate and socio-economic drivers on land use and water quality

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Feb 1;579:1137-1151. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.11.092. Epub 2016 Nov 29.


Changes in climatic conditions will directly affect the quality and quantity of water resources. Further on, they will affect them indirectly through adaptation in land use which ultimately influences diffuse nutrient emissions to rivers and therefore potentially the compliance with good ecological status according to the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). We present an integrated impact modelling framework (IIMF) to track and quantify direct and indirect pollution impacts along policy-economy-climate-agriculture-water interfaces. The IIMF is applied to assess impacts of climatic and socio-economic drivers on agricultural land use (crop choices, farming practices and fertilization levels), river flows and the risk for exceedance of environmental quality standards for determination of the ecological water quality status in Austria. This article also presents model interfaces as well as validation procedures and results of single models and the IIMF with respect to observed state variables such as land use, river flow and nutrient river loads. The performance of the IIMF for calculations of river nutrient loads (120 monitoring stations) shows a Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency of 0.73 for nitrogen and 0.51 for phosphorus. Most problematic is the modelling of phosphorus loads in the alpine catchments dominated by forests and mountainous landscape. About 63% of these catchments show a deviation between modelled and observed loads of 30% and more. In catchments dominated by agricultural production, the performance of the IIMF is much better as only 30% of cropland and 23% of permanent grassland dominated areas have a deviation of >30% between modelled and observed loads. As risk of exceedance of environmental quality standards is mainly recognized in catchments dominated by cropland, the IIMF is well suited for assessing the nutrient component of the WFD ecological status.

Keywords: Agriculture; Climate change; Ecological water quality status; Impact modelling; Socio-economic drivers.

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Policy
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Water Quality / standards
  • Water Supply