The relative impact of climate change and urban expansion on peak flows: a case study in central Belgium

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An essential part of hydrological research focuses on hydrological extremes, such as river peak flows and associated floods, because of their large impact on economy, environment, and human life. These extremes can be affected by potential future environmental change, including global climate change and land cover change. In this paper, the relative impact of both climate change and urban expansion on the peak flows and flood extent is investigated for a small-scale suburban catchment in Belgium. A rainfall-runoff model was coupled to a hydrodynamic model in order to simulate the present-day and future river streamflow. The coupled model was calibrated based on a series of measured water depths and, after model validation, fed with different climate change and urban expansion scenarios in order to evaluate the relative impact of both driving factors on the peak flows and flood extent. The three climate change scenarios that were used (dry, wet winter, wet summer) were based on a statistical downscaling of 58 different RCM and GCM scenario runs. The urban expansion scenarios were based on three different urban growth rates (low, medium, high urban expansion) that were set up by means of an extrapolation of the observed trend of urban expansion. The results suggest that possible future climate change is the main source of uncertainty affecting changes in peak flow and flood extent. The urban expansion scenarios show a more consistent trend. The potential damage related to a flood is, however, mainly influenced by land cover changes that occur in the floodplain. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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