Low flow response surfaces for drought decision support: A case study from the UK

Droughts are complex natural hazards, and planning future management is complicated by the difficulty of projecting future drought and low flow conditions. This paper demonstrates the use of a response surface approach to explore the hydrological behaviour of catchments under a range of possible future conditions. Choosing appropriate hydrological metrics ensures that the response surfaces are relevant to decision-making. Examples from two contrasting English catchments show how low flows in different catchments respond to changes in rainfall and temperature. In an upland western catchment, the Mint, low flows respond most to rainfall and temperature changes in summer, but in the groundwater dominated catchment of the Thet, changes in spring rainfall have the biggest impact on summer flows. Response surfaces are useful for understanding long-term changes, such as those projected in climate projections, but they may also prove useful in drought event management, where possible future conditions can be plotted onto the surface to understand the range of conditions the manager faces. Developing effective response surfaces requires considerable involvement and learning from catchment decision-makers at an early stage, and this should be considered in any planned application.