Projected impacts of climate change on water quality constituents and implications for adaptive management.
Ngcobo, Simphiwe Innocent.
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The past few decades have seen, amongst other topical environmental issues, increased concerns regarding the imminent threat of global warming and the consequential impacts of climate change on environmental, social and economic systems. Numerous groundbreaking studies conducted independently and cooperatively have provided abundant and conclusive evidence that global climates are changing and that these changes will almost certainly impact natural and socio-economic systems. Increased global change pressures, which include, inter alia, climate change, have increased concerns over the supply of adequate quality freshwater. There is an inadequate body of knowledge pertaining to linking basic hydrological processes which drive water quality (WQ) variability with projected climate change. Incorporating such research into policy development and governance with the intention of developing adaptive WQ management strategies is also overlooked. Thus, the aim of this study was the assessment of projected climate change impacts on selected WQ constituents in the context of agricultural non-point source pollution and the development of the necessary adaptation strategies that can be incorporated into WQ management, policy development and governance. This assessment was carried out in the form of a case study in the Mkabela Catchment near Wartburg in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The research involved applying climate change projections derived from seven downscaled Global Circulation Models (GCMs) used in the Fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report, in the ACRU-NPS water quality model to assess the potential impacts on selected water quality constituents (viz. sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus). Results indicated positive correlations between WQ related impacts and contaminant migration as generated from agricultural fertilizer applications. ACRU-NPS simulations indicated increases in runoff and associated changes in WQ variable generation and migration from upstream sources in response to downscaled GCM projections. However, there was limited agreement found between the simulations derived from the various downscaled GCM projections in regard to the magnitude and direction (i.e. percent changes between present and the future) of these changes in WQ variables. The rainfall distribution analyses conducted on a daily time-step resolution for each selected GCM also showed limited consistency between the GCM projections regarding rainfall changes between the present and the future. The implication was that since hydrological and climate change modelling can inform adaptation under climate change. However, adaptation to climate change in water quality management and policy development is going to require approaches that fully recognise the uncertainties presented by climate change and the associated modelling thereof. It was also considered crucial that equal attention be given to both climate change and natural variability, in order to ensure that adaptation strategies remain robust and effective under conditions of climate change and its respective uncertainties.