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Study raises concerns over rising river temperatures in Scotland

The River Lochy, Gairlochy. Please credit Richard Webb.
“Rising stream and river temperatures have several implications. These include impacts on water quality, which has knock-on impacts on the life in our rivers. Several industries, including distillers, also rely on access to cool water for their operations"

Rivers in Scotland’s west and northwest could be the most sensitive to climate change and should be monitored more closely, according to a new study by scientists at The James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen.

The researchers found that while river temperatures across Scotland will rise, the historically cooler rivers in the west and northwest could be on a trajectory to undergo stronger warming compared to other rivers in the country. This could see them reaching levels similar to already warmer rivers in southern Scotland, with potentially detrimental implications for industry, water quality and wildlife.

“Scotland has more than 125,000 km of rivers and streams and these support huge ecosystems, as well as providing water to supporting industries like whisky production and salmon,” says Eva Loerke, who led the research alongside colleagues from the Hutton and the University of Aberdeen.

“Rising stream and river temperatures have several implications. These include impacts on water quality, which has knock-on impacts on the life in our rivers. Several industries, including distillers, also rely on access to cool water for their operations.

“By having a better understanding of those rivers that are more at risk, we can do more now to protect them in the future. This could be by increasing tree and vegetation planting around river edges, to keep them cooler, or by installing nature-based solutions, such as log jams, to create cooler refuges.”

The study used historical monthly water temperature data from 45 catchments, covering 43% of Scotland, to create detailed daily water temperature models. These data, dating back to 1960, were then used alongside the latest climate projections to predict how temperature would change in the future out to 2080.

It showed that Scotland’s streams have generally been increasing in temperature by a maximum of 0.6°C per decade. It also suggested that temperature rises might be higher and earlier, at up to 4°C, by 2051-2080, for those Scottish rivers experiencing the highest warming, compared to previous studies, using earlier climate scenarios, which suggested mean annual UK river water temperature could rise between 1 °C to 3.6 °C by 2071–2100.

The modelling work by the team, published in the journal, Science of The Total Environment, could also be used to help model other rivers, down to smaller tributaries. This would mean more of Scotland’s waterways could be assessed for the risk of warming water and then measures taken, such increasing vegetation on riverbanks that provide shade to help cool the waters.

Future work to further improve the models would be to look at the impact of changes in tree cover around rivers and potential reduction in snow cover, but also human interference like dams or water pumping.

Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy Mairi McAllan said: “We welcome this new study - the findings are consistent with previous work we have undertaken through various studies including the Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network, and underlines the importance of taking robust and urgent action to mitigate climate change.

“That’s why we are providing support for targeted tree planting on river banks to help cool our rivers which will protect species such as wild Atlantic salmon. We’ve also committed £315 million since 2015 through our Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) to support sustainable and regenerative farming practices, and this year’s AECS also includes new support for irrigation lagoons which should assist in mitigating the effects of climate change.”

Notes for editors:

The research paper can be found here: The Long-term daily stream temperature record for Scotland reveals spatio-temporal patterns in warming of rivers in the past and further warming in the future - ScienceDirect

Press and media enquiries: 

Elaine Maslin, Media Officer, The James Hutton Institute elaine.maslin@hutton.ac.uk, tel: +44 (0)1224 395076 or +44 (0)7977 805808 


Printed from /news/study-raises-concerns-over-rising-river-temperatures-scotland on 22/04/24 10:46:42 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.