Memorandum submitted by the Natural Environment
Research Council (NERC)
CLIMATE CHANGE AND WATER SECURITY
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
welcomes the opportunity to provide input.
NERC is one of the UK's seven Research Councils.
It funds and carries out impartial scientific research in the
sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of
independent environmental scientists. Its priority research areas
are: Earth's life-support systems, climate change, and sustainable
NERC's research centres are: the British Antarctic
Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre
for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Proudman Oceanographic
Laboratory (POL). A list of NERC's collaborative centres is appended
For this inquiry, NERC is submitting evidence
from BGS (Annex 1), CEH (Annex 2) and the Tyndall Centre for Climate
Change Research (Annex 3), together with a summary of the main
points and an introduction to relevant NERC programmes compiled
by Swindon-Office staff.
NERC currently supports a number of programmes
relevant to the issue of climate change and water security. Of
most direct relevance is the LOCAR (Lowland Catchment Research)
thematic programme, and it's companion project, CHASM (Catchment
Hydrology and Sustainable Management). The major objective of
both LOCAR and CHASM is to produce integrated hydro-environmental
research on the input-storage-discharge cycle of in-stream, riparian
and wetland habitats within groundwater-dominated systems.
Also of relevance are: COAPEC (Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere
Processes and European Climate), RAPID (Rapid Climate Change)
and RELU (Rural Economy and Land Use). The goal of COAPEC is to
determine the impact on climate, especially European climate,
of the coupling between the Atlantic Ocean and the atmosphere.
The major objective of RAPID is to improve our ability to quantify
the probability and magnitude of future rapid change in climate,
with a main (but not exclusive) focus on the role of the Atlantic
Ocean's thermohaline circulation; major changes in this circulation
obviously have significant implications for climate (and hence
water availability) in Europe. The RELU programme focuses on understanding
the social, economic, environmental and technological challenges
faced by rural areas, including the issues of water quality and
Much of the research into probable climate-change
effects on water availability and flooding involves using scenario
approaches (eg UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) scenarios)
based on Global Climate Models (GCMs) and regional climate models.
There is necessarily a limit to the number of scenarios which
can be run, and to the number of factors which can be considered.
The uncertainties involved make it difficult to make accurate
predictions, although progress is being made in taking account
of them. The following effects of climate change on water security
1. Changes in seasonal rainfall and temperature
are likely, with winters becoming wetter and summers drier and
hotter. There will be a greater likelihood of weather extremes,
and greater variability between years. Water-management systems
will need to be flexible to cope with this.
2. The effects of climate change are likely
to vary geographically; for example, temperatures are likely to
increase more in the southeast than in the northwest of England.
3. Hotter and drier summers will lead to
more demand for water, particularly for agricultural purposes
and for potable water supply. Irrigation of all but the highest-value
crops could be at risk, and the cultivation of some may have to
migrate to higher-rainfall areas of the country.
4. Seasonal increases in demand for water
will have to be met by increased use of reservoir and groundwater,
in part to maintain good ecological status and amenity value of
rivers. The effect of climate change on water supply reliability
will depend to a large extent on how individual catchments are
managed, in particular to cope with competing demands.
5. In the agricultural sphere, measures
such as increased support for the construction of on-farm small-scale
reservoirs and the use of trickle irrigation should be considered,
and there is scope for developing rainfall-harvesting and "dirty"-water
6. Groundwater will be particularly important
because of the size of the reserves and because it is less directly
affected than surface water by the climate itself; however, there
is concern that the quality of groundwater may suffer, and measures
may also be required to enhance groundwater recharge, ie by artificial
and induced recharge, especially if an increase in the frequency
of extreme rainfall events alters the balance between runoff and
7. Flooding, especially groundwater flooding,
is likely to become more common, partly because of an increase
in the frequency of extreme rainfall events, partly because of
the urbanisation of water meadows and similar areas. Our ability
to make predictions in this area would benefit from the inclusion
in models of changes in land use alongside changes in climate.
Of three broad approaches to managing flood risk (reducing the
physical hazard, reducing exposure to flood loss, and reducing
vulnerability), reducing exposure to flood loss is likely to be
the most resilient in the face of climate change.
8. Climate change affects in-stream and
riverine ecosystems primarily through changes in river-flow regimes
and water temperature. It may be possible to maintain current
flow regimes and hence ecosystems, although if this becomes unsustainable,
alternative approaches may have to be considered.
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)