Climate change and water in the UK – past changes and future prospects

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Glenn Watts
  • Richard W. Battarbee
  • John P. Bloomfield
  • Jill Crossman
  • Andre Daccache
  • Isabelle Durance
  • J. Alex Elliott
  • Jamie Hannaford
  • Tim Hess
  • Christopher R. Jackson
  • Alison L. Kay
  • Martin Kernan
  • Jerry Knox
  • Jonathan Mackay
  • Don T. Monteith
  • Steve J. Ormerod
  • Jemima Rance
  • Marianne E. Stuart
  • Andrew J. Wade
  • Steven D. Wade
  • Keith Weatherhead
  • Paul G. Whitehead
  • Robert L. Wilby

External organisations

  • Cardiff University
  • UCL
  • The Environment Agency
  • University of Oxford
  • British Geological Survey
  • UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • Reading University
  • University College London
  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • HR Wallingford
  • Cranfield University
  • Met Office
  • Loughborough University


Climate change is expected to modify rainfall, temperature and catchment hydrological responses across the world, and adapting to these water-related changes is a pressing challenge. This paper reviews the impact of anthropogenic climate change on water in the UK and looks at projections of future change. The natural variability of the UK climate makes change hard to detect; only historical increases in air temperature can be attributed to anthropogenic climate forcing, but over the last 50 years more winter rainfall has been falling in intense events. Future changes in rainfall and evapotranspiration could lead to changed flow regimes and impacts on water quality, aquatic ecosystems and water availability. Summer flows may decrease on average, but floods may become larger and more frequent. River and lake water quality may decline as a result of higher water temperatures, lower river flows and increased algal blooms in summer, and because of higher flows in the winter. In communicating this important work, researchers should pay particular attention to explaining confidence and uncertainty clearly. Much of the relevant research is either global or highly localized: decision-makers would benefit from more studies that address water and climate change at a spatial and temporal scale appropriate for the decisions they make.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-28
Number of pages23
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2015


  • adaptation, climate change, climate change impacts, decision-making, freshwater ecosystems, hydrological change, water environment, water quality change