Effects of thermopeaking on the thermal response of alpine river systems to heatwaves

Meili Feng, Guido Zolezzi, Martin Pusch

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Within the past 30 years there have been two major heatwave events (in 2003 and 2006) that broke 500-year-old temperature records in Europe. Owing to the growing concern of rising temperatures, we analyzed the potential response in a number of river sections that are subject to hydropeaking and thermopeaking through the intermittent release of water from hydropower stations. Thermopeaking in alpine streams is known to intermittently cool down the river water in summer and to warm it up in winter. We analyzed the response of river water temperature to air temperature during heatwaves at 19 gauging stations across Switzerland, using a 30-yr dataset at a 10-min resolution. Stations were either classified into “unpeaked” or “peaked” groups according to four statistical indicators related to hydropeaking and thermopeaking pressure. Peaked stations were exposed to reduced temporal variability in river water temperature, and it was determined that correlations between river water and air temperature were weaker for peaked stations compared with unpeaked stations. Similarly, peaked stations showed a much weaker response to heatwaves compared with unpeaked stations. It is important to note that this “cooling effect” created by hydro-thermopeaking was most pronounced during the two major heatwave events that took place in 2003 and 2006. Furthermore, results from thermal stress events on the growth of a typical cold eurythermic fish species (brown trout) increased continuously in rivers subject to peaked station water release during heatwaves. While hydropower operations that take place high up on mountains releasing hypolimnetic water may mitigate the adverse effects of heatwaves on downstream alpine river ecosystems locally, our results show the complexity of an artificial physical template associated with flow regime regulation in alpine streams.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1266-1275
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpine rivers
  • Heatwaves
  • Hydropeaking
  • Thermal habitat
  • Thermopeaking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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