The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

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4.3.2.3. Snowfields and Hydroelectricity

Increased temperatures will lead to a reduced fraction of precipitation falling as snow, higher snowlines, earlier spring snowmelt, and a shorter snow season in Australia (Whetton et al., 1996c) and New Zealand (Garr and Fitzharris, 1994; Fitzharris and Garr, 1996). Figure 4-3 shows the results of a simulation of the progressive shortening of the snow season at Mt. Bogong-one of Australia's higher-altitude snow areas-over the first half of the next century, based on the CSIRO (1992) scenarios. Greater ablation of New Zealand's Southern Alps' glaciers can be expected, and the volumes of glaciers and total snowpack may decrease, depending on precipitation changes (note that the new scenarios for New Zealand referred to in Section 4.2.3 may result in increased precipitation in the Southern Alps). However, it has been estimated that even with a 10% increase in precipitation, a 2C temperature rise would cause a 20% reduction in the Southern Alps' snow amount (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 7.4.1). Reductions in relative snow amounts would change the seasonality of runoff by increasing winter runoff and decreasing spring runoff (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 10.3.5). This would reduce spring flood risks and provide more seasonally smooth hydroelectricity generation (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 7.5.2). Any changes in atmospheric circulation patterns also would cause changed seasonality of rainfall and river flows, but there is less certainty about the nature of these changes.


Figure 4-3: Simulation of the future decrease in the length of the snow season at Mt. Bogong in southeastern Australia, for best-case (solid) and worst-case (dashed) climate change scenarios. An indication of year-to-year variability is provided by superimposing the year-to-year climate anomalies for 1966-85. Further details can be found in Whetton et al. (1996c).


Under the scenario of more frequent extreme rainfalls, hydroelectricity systems would need to be managed more conservatively, to avoid the risk of overtopping of dams in floods and running out of water during droughts. Increased sediment transport would accelerate the reduction of the storage capacities of hydro lakes. Increases in the temperatures of rivers would reduce the rivers' capacity to cool thermal generating plants, with increased difficulty in meeting regulatory constraints on downstream river temperature (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 14.3.3).

Decreased snow amounts would most likely reduce the amenity value of mountain landscapes for the local population and tourists and reduce the viability of the region's ski industry, whose options for relocation are very limited-by low altitude in Australia and by rugged terrain and conservation estate regulations in New Zealand (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 7.5.5; Whetton et al., 1996c).



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