Heat in rivers

Using an interdisciplinary approach, SLF-researchers will investigate how climate change is heating Europe's rivers, thereby endangering fish stocks and electricity generation. The Swiss National Science Foundation is financing the project under an SNSF Starting Grant.

Summer 2022 saw heatwaves in Europe's rivers threaten fish stocks and make it harder for energy suppliers to cool their thermal power plants. Scientists currently know little about why these heatwaves occur, how they will evolve in the future and what risks they pose. The SLF's "Riverine heatwaves under climate change" (RiHeat) project aims to change that. "We want to describe these extreme events and quantify the associated risks for biodiversity in Europe's rivers and for electricity generation," says Manuela Brunner, head of the SLF's Hydrology & Climate Impacts in Mountain Regions research group, who is leading the project.

The group has set itself four goals:

  • Gain an overview of where and when heatwaves occur most severely and frequently in Europe's rivers
  • Identify the main causes of riverine heatwaves
  • Predict heatwaves in the Alps under the influence of climate change
  • Highlight risks to fish populations and electricity generation under current and future climate conditions


"We're adopting an interdisciplinary approach combining knowledge from climate science, hydrology, statistics and stakeholders from the fisheries and energy sectors," says Brunner. Among other things, she cooperates with experts from the ETH partner institute EAWAG. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is providing around CHF 1.3 million of funding for the project under an SNSF Starting Grant. The researchers will start their work in summer 2024. Brunner has no doubts about its importance: "Our project will be vital for developing suitable adaptation strategies and preparatory measures for dealing with riverine heatwaves in a warming world."




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