Citizen science evidence from the past century shows that Scottish rivers are warming

I Pohle, R Helliwell, C Aube, S Gibbs, M Spencer, L Spezia

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Salmonid species are highly sensitive to river water temperature. Although long-term river temperature monitoring is essential for assessing drivers of change in ecological systems, these data are rarely available from statutory monitoring. We utilized a 105-year citizen science data set of river water temperature from the River Spey, North-East Scotland, gathered during the fishing season (April–October) between 1912 and 2016. As there were gaps in the records we applied generalised additive models to reconstruct long-term daily river temperature in the fishing season from air temperature, cumulative air temperature, day length and runoff. For that, continuous hydrometeorological data have been obtained from statutory monitoring and process-based models. Long-term warming trends of river temperature, namely an increase of 0.2?K per decade after 1961, have been mostly related to increasing air temperature of the same magnitude. Indirect impacts of rising air temperatures include less snow accumulation and snow melt as well as earlier snow melt. The snow free period starts around 2?days earlier per decade throughout the study period and 7?days earlier per decade after 1965. Consequently, the contribution of snow melt and its cooling properties to river temperature in spring are declining. Citizen science delivered a data set that filled a vital knowledge gap in the long-term historical assessment of river temperatures. Such information provides a robust basis for future assessments of global change and can help inform decision-makers about the potential importance of enhancing the resilience of rivers and aquatic ecology to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53 - 65
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date23 Dec 2018
Publication statusPrint publication - Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Climate change
  • Long-term trends
  • River Spey
  • River temperature
  • Salmonids
  • Snow melt


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