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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 by Dr. Nitivattananon and his team during the first quarter of 2020 focused on climate change impact assessment analysis, preparation and submission of the first scientific paper on the project, and development of multi-objective optimization. In addition, the researchers also analyzed the outputs from the reservoir system simulation (HEC-ResSim) model from an ensemble of five climate models under two emission scenarios to quantify the impact of climate change on energy production. In particular, this analysis looks at the impact of not only 20 existing dams but also additional full hydropower development on river flows at several locations. Other activities carried out by the team this period included conducting baseline analysis of fisheries in relation to hydrology and incorporating flow regimes, climate, and water infrastructure development to assist in better understanding the whole 3S river basin.
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.

Preparing input data for and extracting results from the HEC-ResSim model was challenging and time consuming. The project team also faced the challenge of inconsistency of the fisheries data they obtained. In the coming quarter they will continue these modeling and data collection efforts, although they are working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They had planned to hold their second training on hydrological modeling in June 2020, but this is likely to be postponed due to the pandemic-related travel and social distancing restrictions. In the meantime, the team have recently submitted three papers for publication and are revising several others. The two PhD students working on the project are also continuing their dissertation research: Ms. Shakthi Gunawardana (Optimization of Hydropower Reservoirs Operation Balancing Generation Benefit and Fisheries in 3S River Basin under Climate Change Scenarios) and Ms. Nguyen Thi Quyen (Evaluation of Machine Learning Models for Hydrology and Water Quality Assessment under Climate Change Scenarios: A Case Study in 3S River Basin).

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