Climate change is one of the largest and possibly most impactful ongoing but also future environmental drivers. Understanding effects of climate change on aquatic ecosystems and their function is thus of high importance. Within the framework of the Hydro-CH2018 project, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) initiated a synthesis of climate change effects on water quality and the ecological status of freshwater ecosystems. The present report is the result of these synthesis efforts.
Our goal was to summarize available knowledge on how climatic change affects freshwater ecosystems in Switzerland. The work was performed between fall 2017 and fall 2018. We aimed to provide a synthesis of existing knowledge that is as consistent and complete as possible, but also to identify possible knowledge gaps. The work is based on extensive literature surveys and expert interviews. Whenever possible, we included quantitative conclusions. At the same time, we also wanted to be specific and relevant for natural Swiss water systems, so we also included qualitative effects and case studies. While many of the major ongoing and expected effects of climate change on aquatic systems are already well known, we also faced several challenges. For example: (i) some effects of climate change are still only partly understood, (ii) many of the focal endpoints, both with respect to water quality and ecological status, are not only affected by climate change, but also by other anthropogenic drivers, and disentangling these drivers is challenging if not infeasible, (iii) specific effects can be dependent on specific local factors, and (iv) the research field is so vast that the available resources for this one-year synthesis did not allow us to go into as much detail and data analysis as the topic would deserve. As a result, our report is a snapshot of scientific knowledge, at the period of realization, of the effects of climate change on aquatic ecosystems in Switzerland, set into the context of other environmental drivers.
While we see that climate change will have major effects on Swiss water systems, we also identify possible ways of mitigating these effects. We thereby hope that our synthesis is not only an overview of current and future changes, but will also help in policy- and decisionmaking about how to best deal with these changes and challenges.