Multi-model ensemble projections of European river floods and high flows at 1.5, 2, and 3 degrees global warming

Stephan Thober, Rohini Kumar, Niko Wanders, Andreas Marx, Ming Pan, Oldrich Rakovec, Luis Samaniego, Justin Sheffield, Eric F. Wood, Matthias Zink

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114 Scopus citations


Severe river floods often result in huge economic losses and fatalities. Since 1980, almost 1500 such events have been reported in Europe. This study investigates climate change impacts on European floods under 1.5, 2, and 3 K global warming. The impacts are assessed employing a multi-model ensemble containing three hydrologic models (HMs: mHM, Noah-MP, PCR-GLOBWB) forced by five CMIP5 general circulation models (GCMs) under three Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs 2.6, 6.0, and 8.5). This multi-model ensemble is unprecedented with respect to the combination of its size (45 realisations) and its spatial resolution, which is 5 km over the entirety of Europe. Climate change impacts are quantified for high flows and flood events, represented by 10% exceedance probability and annual maxima of daily streamflow, respectively. The multi-model ensemble points to the Mediterranean region as a hotspot of changes with significant decrements in high flows from -11% at 1.5 K up to -30% at 3 K global warming mainly resulting from reduced precipitation. Small changes (< ±10%) are observed for river basins in Central Europe and the British Isles under different levels of warming. Projected higher annual precipitation increases high flows in Scandinavia, but reduced snow melt equivalent decreases flood events in this region. Neglecting uncertainties originating from internal climate variability, downscaling technique, and hydrologic model parameters, the contribution by the GCMs to the overall uncertainties of the ensemble is in general higher than that by the HMs. The latter, however, have a substantial share in the Mediterranean and Scandinavia. Adaptation measures for limiting the impacts of global warming could be similar under 1.5 K and 2 K global warming, but have to account for significantly higher changes under 3 K global warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number014003
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • 1.5 degree global warming
  • Europe
  • Noah-MP
  • climate change
  • floods
  • mHM


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