Impacts of climate change on TN load and its control in a River Basin with complex pollution sources

Xiaoying Yang, Rachel Warren, Yi He, Jinyin Ye, Qiaoling Li, Guoqing Wang

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It is increasingly recognized that climate change could affect the quality of water through complex natural and anthropogenic mechanisms. Previous studies on climate change and water quality have mostly focused on assessing its impact on pollutant loads from agricultural runoff. A sub-daily SWAT model was developed to simulate the discharge, transport, and transformation of nitrogen from all known anthropogenic sources including industries, municipal sewage treatment plants, concentrated and scattered feedlot operations, rural households, and crop production in the Upper Huai River Basin. This is a highly polluted basin with total nitrogen (TN) concentrations frequently exceeding Class V of the Chinese Surface Water Quality Standard (GB3838-2002). Climate change projections produced by 16 Global Circulation Models (GCMs) under the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 scenarios in the mid (2040–2060) and late (2070–2090) century were used to drive the SWAT model to evaluate the impacts of climate change on both the TN loads and the effectiveness of three water pollution control measures (reducing fertilizer use, constructing vegetative filter strips, and improving septic tank performance) in the basin. SWAT simulation results have indicated that climate change is likely to cause an increase in both monthly average and extreme TN loads in February, May, and November. The projected impact of climate change on TN loads in August is more varied between GCMs. In addition, climate change is projected to have a negative impact on the effectiveness of septic tanks in reducing TN loads, while its impacts on the other two measures are more uncertain. Despite the uncertainty, reducing fertilizer use remains the most effective measure for reducing TN loads under different climate change scenarios. Meanwhile, improving septic tank performance is relatively more effective in reducing annual TN loads, while constructing vegetative filter strips is more effective in reducing annual maximum monthly TN loads.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1155–1163
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date17 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2018


  • Climate Change
  • SWAT
  • Nitrogen
  • Water Pollution Control
  • Scenario analysis

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