Impacts of climate change and socio-economic scenarios on flow and water quality of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna river system: Low flow and flood statistics

Authors Whitehead, P.G.; Barbour, E.; Futter, M.N.; Sarkar, S.; Rodda, H.; Caesar, J.; Butterfield, D.; Jin, L.; Sinha, R.; Nicholls, R.; Salehin, M.
Year of Publication 2015
Type of Publication Journal Article
Journal Environmental Science-Processes & Impacts
Volume 17
Pagination 1057 - 1069
Open Access No


The potential impacts of climate change and socio-economic change on flow and water quality in rivers worldwide is a key area of interest. The Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna (GBM) is one of the largest river basins in the world serving a population of over 650 million, and is of vital concern to India and Bangladesh as it provides fresh water for people, agriculture, industry, conservation and for the delta system downstream. This paper seeks to assess future changes in flow and water quality utilising a modelling approach as a means of assessment in a very complex system. The INCA-N model has been applied to the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river systems to simulate flow and water quality along the rivers under a range of future climate conditions. Three model realisations of the Met Office Hadley Centre global and regional climate models were selected from 17 perturbed model runs to evaluate a range of potential futures in climate. In addition, the models have also been evaluated using socioeconomic scenarios, comprising (1) a business as usual future, (2) a more sustainable future, and (3) a less sustainable future. Model results for the 2050s and the 2090s indicate a significant increase in monsoon flows under the future climates, with enhanced flood potential. Low flows are predicted to fall with extended drought periods, which could have impacts on water and sediment supply, irrigated agriculture and saline intrusion. In contrast, the socio-economic changes had relatively little impact on flows, except under the low flow regimes where increased irrigation could further reduce water availability. However, should large scale water transfers upstream of Bangladesh be constructed, these have the potential to reduce flows and divert water away from the delta region depending on the volume and timing of the transfers. This could have significant implications for the delta in terms of saline intrusion, water supply, agriculture and maintaining crucial ecosystems such as the mangrove forests, with serious implications for people's livelihoods in the area. The socio-economic scenarios have a significant impact on water quality, altering nutrient fluxes being transported into the delta region.