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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 Website:

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 main activities on this project during the second quarter of 2018 included data collection for climate and hydrological modeling, downscaling and climate change projection, development of the hydrological model (SWAT), and data sharing and web-based dissemination. Dr. Nitivattananon and his co-PIs have collected most of the necessary data required for this project with the exception of that regarding fisheries. The data already in hand include hydrological (discharge) and meteorological (temperature and rainfall) details from 1980 to 2015, as well as a digital elevation model and data on land use and land cover, soil, and dams (existing, under construction, and planned) and their operation and management in the 3S River Basin. These data were collected from various government agencies of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Similarly, for the future climate projections for the basin, the team has extracted future climate data from five RCMs from the CMIP5 project. They have almost completed the developing high-resolution climate change scenarios in the 3S River Basin and are continuing to analyze and map other spatial and climate data. 

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.

Meanwhile, a hydrological model, the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), is being developed for the 3S River Basin, integrating data on existing and planned hydropower projects. The model is ready for calibration and validation in all sub-basins (Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok), as well as for the whole 3S River Basin. The team is also developing a web-based interactive decision support system (DSS) using Shiny and the R platform to disseminate future climate projections and hydrological and fish catch data in selected areas of the 3S Basin. Once complete, the DSS will be integrated in the project website:

Coming up this fall, the PEER team are organizing a training workshop on “Climate change projection and hydrological modeling,” which will be held at AIT in Bangkok October 15-21, 2018. Their U.S. partner Prof. John Sabo of Arizona State University will be among the trainers at the event, which will serve 20 young professionals from various organizations in the Lower Mekong countries. In addition to the workshop, the PI and his colleagues will continue working on their climate and hydrological modeling and calibration activities.

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