Switzerland is regarded as the "water tower of Europe". However, the water does not always flow in the right place at the right time. In time, climate change could further exacerbate this situation. We study the processes involved in fluctuating rain and meltwater run-off levels and identify the risks and opportunities arising from this, including for hydropower.
Too much or too little water
Fluctuating and changing run-off levels require both civil protection services and water resource management. Our snow and water run-off measurement networks throughout Switzerland record when and how much snow and water is available in specific locations. These measurements and the information derived from them allow for more reliable predictions to be made regarding water run-off levels. This is especially critical for optimising energy generation from hydropower.
Glaciers in retreat
One key climate change issue is to determine what consequences rising temperatures, melting glaciers and less frequent snowfall will have on water availability in the medium term. After all, snow constitutes an important temporary cache for winter precipitation, which replenishes groundwater reserves for drinking water supplies and agriculture. This is why we are examining the hydrological processes relating to glacial retreat. We explore the fundamental glaciological processes in laboratory and field studies in order to determine the earlier extent of glaciers and predict future water availability.
The impact of the energy transition
The conversion of the Swiss energy system has consequences for the environment and for society. This means that the ability to make predictions is highly beneficial. As part of the Energy Change Impact research programme, the WSL and SLF are examining the availability of water, sun, wind and biomass resources required for the energy transition. This also includes the question of how changes in utilisation as a result of the energy transition may impact the environment and landscape.