Impact of climate change on runoff pollution in urban environments
Runoff from urban environments is generally contaminated. These contaminants mostly originate from road traffic and building envelopes. Facade envelopes generate lead, zinc and even biocides, which are used for facade protection. Road traffic produces particles from tires and brakes. The transport of these pollutants to the environment is controlled by rainfall. The interval, duration and intensity of rainfall events are important as the dynamics of the pollutants are often modeled with non-linear buildup/washoff functions. Buildup occurs during dry weather when pollution accumulates, and is subsequently washed-off at the time of the following rainfall, contaminating surface runoff. Climate predictions include modified rainfall distributions, with changes in both number and intensity of events, even if the expected annual rainfall varies little. Consequently, pollutant concentrations in urban runoff driven by buildup/washoff processes will be affected by these changes in rainfall distributions. We investigated to what extent modifications in future rainfall distributions will impact the concentrations of pollutants present in urban surface runoff. The study used the example of Lausanne, Switzerland (temperate climate zone). Three emission scenarios (time horizon 2090), multiple combinations of RCM/GCM and modifications in rain event frequency were used to simulate future rainfall distributions with various characteristics. Simulated rainfall events were used as inputs for four pairs of buildup/washoff models, in order to compare future pollution concentrations in surface runoff. In this way, uncertainty in model structure was also investigated. Future concentrations were estimated to be between ±40% of today’s concentrations depending on the season and, importantly, on the choice of the RCM/GCM model. Overall, however, the dominant factor was the uncertainty inherent in buildup/washoff models, which dominated over the uncertainty in future rainfall distributions. Consequently, the choice of a proper buildup/washoff model, with calibrated site-specific coefficients, is a major factor in modeling future runoff concentrations from contaminated urban surfaces.