Assessing climate change impacts on fresh water resources of the Athabasca River Basin, Canada

Narayan Kumar Shrestha, Xinzhong Du, Junye Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

128 Citations (Scopus)


Proper management of blue and green water resources is important for the sustainability of ecosystems and for the socio-economic development of river basins such as the Athabasca River Basin (ARB) in Canada. For this reason, quantifying climate change impacts on these water resources at a finer temporal and spatial scale is often necessary. In this study, we used a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to assess climate change impacts on fresh water resources, focusing explicitly on the impacts to both blue and green water. We used future climate data generated by the Canadian Center for Climate Modelling and Analysis Regional Climate Model (CanRCM4) with a spatial resolution of 0.22° × 0.22° (~ 25 km) for two emission scenarios (RCP 4.5 and 8.5). Results projected the climate of the ARB to be wetter by 21–34% and warmer by 2–5.4 °C on an annual time scale. Consequently, the annual average blue and green water flow was projected to increase by 16–54% and 11–34%, respectively, depending on the region, future period, and emission scenario. Furthermore, the annual average green water storage at the boreal region was expected to increase by 30%, while the storage was projected to remain fairly stable or decrease in other regions, especially during the summer season. On average, the fresh water resources in the ARB are likely to increase in the future. However, evidence of temporal and spatial heterogeneity could pose many future challenges to water resource planners and managers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-440
Number of pages16
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec. 2017


  • Athabasca River Basin (ARB)
  • Blue and green water resources
  • CanRCM4
  • Climate change
  • SWAT


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