River water temperature in the United Kingdom: Changes over the 20th century and possible changes over the 21st century

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Change in river water temperature has important consequences for the environment and people. This review provides a new perspective on the topic by evaluating changes in river water temperature for the UK over the 20th century and possible changes over the 21st century. There is limited knowledge of space-time variability in, and controls on, river temperature at the region scale and beyond over the 20th century. There is historical evidence that UK river temperature has increased in the latter part of the 20th century, but low agreement on the attribution of changes to climatic warming because river temperature is a complex, dynamic response to climate and hydrological patterns moderated by basin properties and anthropogenic impacts. Literature is scarce to evaluate changes to UK river temperature in the 21st century, but it appears as likely as not that UK river temperature will increase in the future. However, there are a number of interlinked sources of uncertainty (related to observations, scenarios, process interactions and feedback) that make estimating direction and rate of temperature change for rivers across the UK with confidence very challenging. Priority knowledge gaps are identified that must be addressed to improve understanding of past, contemporary and future river temperature change.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-92
Number of pages25
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2015


  • adaptation, climate change, controls and processes, review, river/stream temperature, spatial and temporal heterogeneity, thermal dynamics, UK, water temperature