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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Connecting climate change, hydrology, and fisheries for energy and food security in Lower Mekong Basin

PI: Vilas Nitivattananon,, Asian Institute of Technology; with co-PIs Sangam Shrestha,, AIT; Thanapon Piman,, Stockholm Environmental Institute; and Chheng Phen,, Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute
U.S. Partner: John Sabo, Arizona State University
Project Dates:  December 2017 - November 2020

Project Overview

Home to tremendous biodiversity, the Srepok, Sesan and Sekong (3S) rivers of the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) straddle Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and provide food security for millions of people. An annual flood pulse provides nutrients to surrounding farmlands and sustains rice production, influences primary and secondary fish production, and cues the reproductive migration of fish species, the dominant animal protein for more than 60 million people in the LMB (Hori, 2000; Stone et al., 2011). The 3S tributaries are dammed to produce hydropower, with rapid economic growth driving the region to construct more dams. Climate change is likely to significantly alter river flow in the region, which will lower energy production from dams and threaten the timing, frequency, and magnitude of the flood pulse. Therefore, we must now assess climate change impacts on river flows, dam development and operations, and fish habitat in the LMB to reduce future risks to energy production and food security. To develop optimum hydropower projects under climate change scenarios in the 3S basin, the PI and his colleagues in Thailand and Cambodia will answer the following questions:

1. What are the scenarios of hydropower production and fish harvest under current climatic conditions?
2. How will the climate of the 3S river basin change in the near (2030s), mid (2050s), and distant (2080s) future?
3. What impact will future climate have on river flow, dam operations, hydropower, and fish habitats?

This project should contribute to developing the capacity of individuals and institutions to optimize hydropower production and the fish harvest. The researchers involved will generate very high-resolution climate data by downscaling multiple regional climate models (RCMs) from the Coupled Model Intercomparision Project 5 (CMIP5). Using this integrated modeling tool, the team will assess the impacts of climate change and hydropower operations on river flows, flood pulse, and energy and fish production, plus build an understanding of the key trade-offs. They will use a multiple optimization method (control theory) to develop decision scenarios to optimize hydropower production and fish harvest under future climate scenarios, leading to recommendations for government policymakers nationally and regionally. A multi-modeling approach, integrated with education and capacity building, can reduce decision making uncertainties under climate change scenarios and risks associated with energy and food security in the LMB region.

Summary of Recent Activities

The project kick-off meeting was organized February 7-8, 2018, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The first day was devoted to discussions of project strategies for data collection, collaborations with various organizations, training program topics, climate models to be used, and other technical aspects. On the second day, project partners visited to a dai fishery site, which helped the participants gain a first-hand understanding of the current situation in the study area. Since the in-person kick-off meeting, team meetings have continued remotely twice a month to ensure that all partners are on track. Regarding data collection, the researchers have already acquired some temporal hydrological and meteorological data, but the time series and number of stations are not sufficient, so they are requesting the relevant agencies from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to update their time series data up to 2015 and to increase the number of hydrometeorological stations. The project team has also been working to develop high-resolution climate change scenarios and are planning to take 10-15 RCM/GCM in the initial stage. Based on the performance of the climate models they will finalize the number of models to be used for hydrological modeling. They are also working on the development of a SWAT hydrological model and to this end have prepared the required spatial data, including a digital elevation model (DEM), soil map, and land use map, with hydrological modeling being the next step.
6-436 Kick-off Meeting 26-436 Dai Fisheries Visit
Members of the project kick-off meeting in Phnom Penh (photos courtesy of Dr. Nitivattananon).The team visits the Dai fisheries for data collection.
Plans call for the team to conduct a capacity building workshop in October 2018, so they are preparing the training materials and modules. SEI is taking the lead in collecting the dam data, while AIT is coordinating the acquisition of hydrometeorological data. About 40 young professionals from various organizations in the Lower Mekong region are expected to participate. Meanwhile during the coming months, work on both the climate and hydrological modeling fronts will proceed as planned. The researchers have collected RCM/GCM data under climate change scenarios (RCP4.5/8.5) and in the next three to six months they will correct the bias existing in the climate model and develop spatial variation in temperature and rainfall in the 3S basin. Regarding the planned development of the hydrological model and assessment of climate change impacts on river flows, they expect to complete model calibration and validation by the end of the summer of 2018.

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