Research projects

 Eco-hydrologic services of Swiss rivers and catchments under climate and landuse scenarios

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SNF no. 315230_173206


The main objective of the SWATCH21 project is to improve our understanding of and to model hydrologic ecosystem services (supply and demand) at the catchment level on the one hand, and aquatic biodiversity at the river scale on the other hand. The hydrological and ecological models obtained are used to confront the outcomes of climate and landuse change scenarios against multiple policy targets for the 21st century. In 2016, the Hydrology Division of the federal Office of the Environment has launched a new focus area to establish a platform for knowledge sharing between researchers and end users in the area of climate change and hydrology. Anticipating on some (not all) of the conclusions of this future synthesis, the SWATCH21 project aims at filling some of the expected gaps:

  • Switzerland is a data-rich country but the data needed to assess hydrologic services and biodiversity is long and difficult to gather;
  • The impact of glacier and snow melting on hydrological services is not well understood;
  • The provision of hydrologic services from river catchments has not been assessed across Switzerland;
  • The impacts of expected environmental changes on river species diversity at the Swiss scale has not been explored; and
  • The capacity to address multi-sectorial policy targets is weak.

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In order to address these scientific gaps we defined six main research questions:

  • How can we improve the access to input data for hydrological and ecological modeling?
  • What is the role of glacier and snow in modifying the hydrological services?
  • How can we best assess hydrologic services supplies and demands with the available data and tools?
  • What will be the impact of the main hydrologic changes on species diversity in rivers?
  • Can we meet the targets of multi-sectorial river-related policies under different climate and landuse scenarios?
  • How detailed do ES data and models need to be to answer relevant policy questions?

The general organization of the work program flows logically from the research gaps and questions from the creation of a spatial data infrastructure to facilitate the use and reuse of initial condition data (Task 1), into the integration of a glacier and snow melt model with a hydrological model (Task 2), followed by hydrologic ES modeling (Task 3), river species distribution modeling (Task 4), then the analyses of the impacts of climate and landuse scenarios on policy targets linked to specific ES and biodiversity indicators (Task 5), and throughout the project the development of a Application Programming Interface connecting the input data with the different pieces of software to automate the production of the SWATCH21 outputs (Task 6). SWATCH21 will provide an integrated solution to access, share, process, model and deliberate on hydrologic ecosystems services. State-of-the-art models will be selected, compared and improved to model different ecosystems and their services.

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The main outputs of the project will be high-impact scientific publications, as well as many new datasets made available to describe Swiss rivers hydrology, their predicted biodiversity and the related assessment of ecosystem services in terms of provisioning services (e.g. water resources), regulating services (e.g. nutrient, sediment and flood water retention), and cultural services (e.g. biodiversity, recreation). The main outcome of the project will be to improve the feasibility of integrated evidenced-based water policy in the future. A broader project incorporating social scientists, economists, geographers and energy experts has been prepared around a Climate-Water-Energy-Ecosystem Nexus approach. This second project will be submitted as a Sinergia SNF interdisciplinary project once the eco-hydrological basis will be hopefully funded through this first phase of project.


Contact: Anthony.Lehmann(at)