River temperature modelling: A review of process-based approaches and future directions

Stephen Dugdale, David Hannah, Iain Malcolm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
599 Downloads (Pure)


River temperature has a major influence on biophysical processes in lotic environments. River temperature is expected to increase due to climate change, with potentially adverse consequences for water quality and ecosystems. Consequently, a better understanding of the drivers of river temperature space-time variability is important for developing adaptation strategies. However, existing river temperature archives are often of low resolution or short timespans, and the analysis of patterns or trends can therefore be difficult. In light of these limitations, researchers have increasingly used models to generate river temperature estimates suitable for addressing fundamental and applied questions in river science. Of these models, process-based approaches are well suited to helping improve knowledge of the mechanisms controlling river temperature, because of their ability to explore the energy (and water) fluxes responsible for temperature patterns. While process-based modelling approaches can often be more data intensive than their statistical counterparts, they offer significant advantages with regard to simulating the impacts of projected land-use or climate change, and can provide valuable insights for informing the development of statistical models at larger scales. However, a wide range of process-based river temperature models exist, and choosing the most appropriate model for a given investigation requires careful consideration. In this paper, we review the foundations of process-based river temperature modelling and critically evaluate the features and functionality of existing models with a view to helping river scientists better understand their utility. In conclusion, we discuss key considerations and limitations of currently available process-based models and advocate directions for future research. We hope that this review will enable river researchers and managers to make informed decisions regarding model selection and spur the continued refinement of process-based temperature models for addressing fundamental and applied questions in the river sciences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-113
Number of pages17
JournalEarth Science Reviews
Early online date28 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


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