Water in the UK
Water in the UK

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Water in the UK

5 Changing climate

The climate is believed to be changing as a result of increased emissions of some gases to the atmosphere by human activities, especially by our use of fossil fuels. The UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) has identified that mean annual temperatures in the UK have increased by about 0.7 °C over the last 300 years, with most of this, about 0.5 °C of warming, occurring during the 20th century. This warming is predicted to continue throughout the 21st century.

Detailed prediction of climatic change is difficult, because of the natural variability of the climate, which may magnify or reduce the effect of climate change on a shorter timescale. Some events that we have been experiencing recently (droughts and floods) may be part of the natural variability, or extremes caused by the changing climate.

Planning for future water resources in the UK has to take into account climatic changes. Current (2004) climatic change predictions by UKCIP suggest that:

  • the average annual temperature across the UK will rise by between 2 °C and 3.5 °C by 2080;
  • the warming will be greater in the south and east of the UK;
  • winters will become wetter and summers will become drier, though even by the 2020s, changes will still be within the range of the natural variations we experience now;
  • the annual variability of rainfall will increase — there will be both more wet years and more dry years.

Climate change affects planning for water resources in three ways.

  • Demand for water Domestic water use is likely to increase due to hotter summers, mainly due to increased washing and garden watering. The total impact on industrial water use is uncertain; some uses will increase (e.g. water cooling is less efficient at higher temperatures so the demand may increase) and some will decrease. Agricultural water demand will increase (e.g. for greater irrigation and more drinking water for livestock).
  • Availability of water Higher winter rainfall will increase river discharge, reservoir replenishment and aquifer recharge in winter, but summer discharges and infiltration will decrease, particularly in the south and east. Water availability will therefore become less reliable. Evaporation will increase due to higher temperatures.
  • Environmental impact Changes in river discharge and groundwater levels will have an impact on the plants and animals that rely on the water environment; some will thrive under the changed conditions and some will find it hard to survive. Designated conservation areas will need protection by reducing abstractions to maintain summer flows and groundwater levels (Figure 9).
Figure 9 Freshwater wetlands such as this in the Somerset Levels may be at risk from changes in water availability caused by climate change.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371