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Conceptualisations and applications of eco-hydrological indicators under conditions of climate change.

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Anthropogenically-induced climate change has the potential to have serious implications on aquatic ecosystems and may ultimately affect the supply and quality of freshwater lakes and rivers throughout the world. As a class of ecosystems, inland waters are vulnerable to climatic change and other pressures, due to their small size and their position in the landscape. There is therefore a need to assess the impact of projected climatic change on aquatic ecosystems. Owing to this need, ecological indicators have been developed as a method of quantifying, identifying, monitoring and managing the ecological integrity of aquatic environments. The aim of this research was to develop techniques in order to conceptualise the higher order impacts of projected climate change on environmentally related streamflows and water temperature in South Africa, and to simulate these using an appropriate hydrological model. For this dissertation the downscaled daily climate output from the ECHAM5/MPI-OM General Circulation Model (GCM) was used as an input into the daily time step conceptualphysical ACRU Agrohydrological Modelling System in order to simulate the impacts of projected climate change on selected eco-hydrological indicators at the Quinary Catchment spatial scale. In this research these indicators were grouped into two broad categories: 1. Ecological Flow Indicators and 2. Water Temperature Indicators. The results of this research took the form of maps and time series graphs. The ecological flow indicator results investigate the magnitude and duration of flow events and were analysed spatially for the 5 838 hydrologically interlinked and cascading Quinary Catchments constituting the southern Africa study region. The ECHAM5/MPI-OM GCM projects the magnitude and duration of both annual subcatchment runoff and accumulated streamflows to increase in the eastern parts of southern Africa for the intermediate future climate scenario (2046 - 2065), with this trend strengthening in the distant future climate scenario (2081 - 2100). The computationally intensive water temperature indicator results were analysed spatially at the scale of the Thukela Catchment. The Thukela catchment was selected as a case study area because of its diversity - in altitude, rainfall, soils and ecological regions, as well as in its population geography and levels of education and employment. This diversity presents a challenge to studies of impacts of projected climate change, including its potential impacts on water temperatures. The spatial analyses indicate that subcatchment runoff, accumulated streamflows and mixed maximum water temperature are all likely to increase under projected future climate conditions. A temporal investigation, in the form of time series analyses, focused on four water temperature indicators and was performed for 15 selected Quinary Catchments, located within the Thukela Catchment. These temporal analyses indicate that the absolute variability (i.e. standard deviation) of both individual subcatchment runoff and accumulated catchment streamflows, are projected to increase in the future, while the relative variability (i.e. coefficient of variation) is likely to remain much the same or even decrease slightly over time period. These temporal analyses also indicate that there is a noticeable difference in the mixed maximum water temperature within a single Quaternary Catchment due to hydrological flow routing, with an increase in water temperatures as the water cascades downstream from the upper Quinaries to the Quinaries at lower altitudes. The techniques developed and used in this research could aid decision makers involved in ecological and water management planning.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2009.


Climatic changes--Environmental aspects--Southern Africa., Ecohydrology--Southern Africa., Hydrologic models., Theses--Bioresources engineering and environmental hydrology.