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  Globally widespread and increasing violations of environmental flow envelopes

Virkki, V., Alanärä, E., Porkka, M., Ahopelto, L., Gleeson, T., Mohan, C., Wang-Erlandsson, L., Flörke, M., Gerten, D., Gosling, S. N., Hanasaki, N., Müller Schmied, H., Wanders, N., Kummu, M. (2022): Globally widespread and increasing violations of environmental flow envelopes. - Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 26, 12, 3315-3336.

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Virkki, Vili1, Author
Alanärä, Elina1, Author
Porkka, Miina1, Author
Ahopelto, Lauri1, Author
Gleeson, Tom1, Author
Mohan, Chinchu1, Author
Wang-Erlandsson, Lan1, Author
Flörke, Martina1, Author
Gerten, Dieter2, Author              
Gosling, Simon N.1, Author
Hanasaki, Naota1, Author
Müller Schmied, Hannes1, Author
Wanders, Niko1, Author
Kummu, Matti1, Author
1External Organizations, ou_persistent22              
2Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, ou_persistent13              


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 Abstract: Human actions and climate change have drastically altered river flows across the world, resulting in adverse effects on riverine ecosystems. Environmental flows (EFs) have emerged as a prominent tool for safeguarding the riverine ecosystems, but at the global scale, the assessment of EFs is associated with high uncertainty related to the hydrological data and EF methods employed. Here, we present a novel, in-depth global EF assessment using environmental flow envelopes (EFEs). Sub-basin-specific EFEs are determined for approximately 4400 sub-basins at a monthly time resolution, and their derivation considers the methodological uncertainties related to global-scale EF studies. In addition to a lower bound of discharge based on existing EF methods, we introduce an upper bound of discharge in the EFE. This upper bound enables areas to be identified where streamflow has substantially increased above natural levels. Further, instead of only showing whether EFs are violated over a time period, we quantify, for the first time, the frequency, severity, and trends of EFE violations during the recent historical period. Discharge was derived from global hydrological model outputs from the ISIMIP 2b ensemble. We use pre-industrial (1801–1860) quasi-natural discharge together with a suite of hydrological EF methods to estimate the EFEs. We then compare the EFEs with recent historical (1976–2005) discharge to assess the violations of the EFE. These violations most commonly manifest as insufficient streamflow during the low-flow season, with fewer violations during the intermediate-flow season, and only a few violations during the high-flow season. The EFE violations are widespread and occur in half of the sub-basins of the world during more than 5 % of the months between 1976 and 2005, which is double compared with the pre-industrial period. The trends in EFE violations have mainly been increasing, which will likely continue in the future with the projected hydroclimatic changes and increases in anthropogenic water use. Indications of increased upper extreme streamflow through EFE upper bound violations are relatively scarce and dispersed. Although local fine-tuning is necessary for practical applications, and further research on the coupling between quantitative discharge and riverine ecosystem responses at the global scale is required, the EFEs provide a quick and globally robust way of determining environmental flow allocations at the sub-basin scale to inform global research and policies on water resources management.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2022-06-012022-07-012022-07-01
 Publication Status: Finally published
 Pages: 22
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.5194/hess-26-3315-2022
PIKDOMAIN: RD1 - Earth System Analysis
Organisational keyword: RD1 - Earth System Analysis
Working Group: Terrestrial Safe Operating Space
Research topic keyword: Freshwater
Research topic keyword: Climate impacts
Research topic keyword: Planetary Boundaries
Regional keyword: Global
Model / method: LPJmL
MDB-ID: 3339
OATYPE: Gold Open Access
 Degree: -



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Title: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
Source Genre: Journal, SCI, Scopus, p3, oa
Publ. Info: -
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 26 (12) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 3315 - 3336 Identifier: CoNE: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/cone/journals/resource/journals208
Publisher: Copernicus