The simulation of hydrological impacts in a changing climate remains one of the main challenges of the earth system sciences. Impact assessments can be, in many cases, laborious processes leading to inevitable methodological compromises that drastically affect the robustness of the conclusions. In this study we examine the implications of different CMIP5-based regional and global climate model ensembles for projections of the hydrological impacts of climate change. We compare results from three different assessments of hydrological impacts under high-end climate change (RCP8.5) across Europe, and we focus on how methodological differences affect the projections. We assess, as systematically as possible, the differences in runoff projections as simulated by a land surface model driven by three different sets of climate projections over the European continent at global warming of 1.5 °C, 2 °C and 4 °C relative to pre-industrial levels, according to the RCP8.5 concentration scenario. We find that these methodological differences lead to considerably different outputs for a number of indicators used to express different aspects of runoff. We further use a number of new global climate model experiments, with an emphasis on high resolution, to test the assumption that many of the uncertainties in regional climate and hydrological changes are driven predominantly by the prescribed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and sea-ice concentrations (SICs) and we find that results are more sensitive to the choice of the atmosphere model compared to the driving SSTs. Finally, we combine all sources of information to identify robust patterns of hydrological changes across the European continent.
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