Future changes in hydro-climatic extremes in the Upper Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra River basins

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 29;12(12):e0190224. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190224. eCollection 2017.


Future hydrological extremes, such as floods and droughts, may pose serious threats for the livelihoods in the upstream domains of the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra. For this reason, the impacts of climate change on future hydrological extremes is investigated in these river basins. We use a fully-distributed cryospheric-hydrological model to simulate current and future hydrological fluxes and force the model with an ensemble of 8 downscaled General Circulation Models (GCMs) that are selected from the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios. The model is calibrated on observed daily discharge and geodetic mass balances. The climate forcing and the outputs of the hydrological model are used to evaluate future changes in climatic extremes, and hydrological extremes by focusing on high and low flows. The outcomes show an increase in the magnitude of climatic means and extremes towards the end of the 21st century where climatic extremes tend to increase stronger than climatic means. Future mean discharge and high flow conditions will very likely increase. These increases might mainly be the result of increasing precipitation extremes. To some extent temperature extremes might also contribute to increasing discharge extremes, although this is highly dependent on magnitude of change in temperature extremes. Low flow conditions may occur less frequently, although the uncertainties in low flow projections can be high. The results of this study may contribute to improved understanding on the implications of climate change for the occurrence of future hydrological extremes in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Climate*
  • Ecosystem*
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Rivers*

Grant support

This work was carried out as part of the Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HIAWARE) consortium under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada. This work was also partially supported by core funds of ICIMOD contributed by the governments of Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Norway, Pakistan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 676819). This work is part of the research programme VIDI with project number 016.161.208, which is (partly) financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). DFID and IDRC funds the HI-AWARE consortium, of which ICIMOD and FutureWater are consortium members. These funds partly supported the contributions of RRW, AFL, SN, SK, SP, ABS, and WWI. ICIMOD core funds partly funded the contributions of SN, SK, SP, and ABS. ERC partly funded the contribution of WWI through grant agreement 676819. VIDI partly funded the contribution of WWI through project 016.161.208. RRW, AFL, SK, and WWI are employed by FutureWater. FutureWater provided support in the form of salaries for authors RRW, AFL, SK, and WWI, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.