UCL Department of Geography
GEOGG123 Impacts of Climate Change on Hydro-ecological Systems
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GEOGG123 Impacts of Climate Change on Hydro-ecological Systems

(15 credits)   

Term 2 (2012)

Richard Taylor, Professor Mike Acreman (CEH), Simon Dadson (Oxford), Martin Kernan, Simon Lewis


  • to introduce students to the complex linkages between climate and hydrology and between hydrological change and aquatic ecosystems; and
  • to introduce both statistical and numerical modelling approaches to climate change impact assessment and the estimation of ecological water demand in hydro-ecological systems.

The Impacts of Climate Change on Hydro-Ecological Systems optional course begins first by outlining how anthropogenic warming impacts hydrological systems introducing concepts such as non-stationarity and the Clausius-Clapeyron relation, and second by relating these basic principles to empirical studies summarised in IPCC AR4 and more recent studies (QUEST-GSI, EUROLIMPACS). The course then extends this conceptual and empirically driven knowledge base of climate change impacts on terrestrial hydrology to a range of aquatic ecosystems including lakes and wetlands as well as groundwater and glacial environments around the world. These case study environments serve to demonstrate the complexity of the involved interactions that involve changes in freshwater withdrawals and land-use, and include non-linear and non-intuitive responses to climate variability and change. These case studies will further demonstrate the use of specific analytical techniques for establishing linkages and evaluating trends, and highlight key challenges to current understanding of climate change impacts that include: (1) limited monitoring networks and observational datasets, and (2) uncertainty in hydrological projections of rainfall, evapotranspiration, river discharge, soil moisture and groundwater recharge. The course will conclude with examples the challenging task of communicating uncertain and complex impacts of climate change on water resources and hydro-ecological systems to water managers, policy makers and the general public. 

1 piece of coursework, 100% of the assessment.

The module will be delivered through:

    • Lectures & seminars (2 hour sessions providing concepts, contexts, and case studies) run by experts within and outside of UCL: Richard Taylor, UCL Geography (RT); Chiara Ambrosino, UCL Statistics (CA); Mike Acreman, CEH Wallingford (MA); Martin Kernan, UCL Geography (MK); Simon Dadson, Oxford (SD), Simon Lewis, UCL Geography (SL).
    • Practical focused on the estimation of ecological water demand (environmental flow requirements) from projections of river discharge under climate change.
    • Moodle resources (hosting reading lists, lecture/seminar handouts, datasets, guides and practical support materials).

Learning outcomes:

  • sound conceptual understanding of climate change impacts on a range of hydrological and ecological systems;
  • conceptual understanding and practical experience of relevant modelling and analytical techniques;
  • appreciation of the importance of quantifying uncertainty in climate change impact analyses and predictions; and
  • understanding the importance and practicalities of stakeholder communication and involvement.