How Climate Change Impacts Water Availability ‘Systematically Underestimated’
As is now abundantly clear, the changing climate is having an impact on air circulation around the world, which in turn leads to changes in precipitation and evaporation, influencing how much water is available in rivers to be used at a local level.
However, new research has now suggested that physical models making predictions about the effects of climate change have been systematically underestimating how sensitively water availability reacts.
Carried out by the Vienna University of Technology, the study – led by professor Gunter Bloschl – analysed measurement data from over 9,500 hydrological catchment areas globally and found that climate change has the potential to cause even greater local water crises than previously expected.
The researchers discovered that the connection between precipitation and river water volume is far more sensitive than has been assumed in the past, suggesting that forecast models for how climate change will impact water supplies must now be fundamentally revised.
Mr Bloschl explained that the analysis wasn’t based on physical models but on actual measurements instead, reviewing how much the amount of available water has changed when external conditions fluctuate.
This new way of working allows scientists to see how sensitive changes in climate parameters are in relation to local water availability, helping them to make predictions for the future when global temperatures will have increased.
These results show that climate change risks for water supplies in many parts of the world have, indeed, been underestimated. For example, in North America, Australia and Africa in particular, this new dataset predicts a far higher risk of water crises by 2050 than was previously forecast.
Commenting on the findings, Mr Bloschl said: “The climatology community today has a very good understanding of the effects of climate change on the atmosphere.However, what consequences this can have locally on rivers and the availability of water falls within the field of hydrology.
“So far, discharge measurements have usually not been included in the models currently used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. With the series of measurements now available, it should now be possible to adapt the underlying physical prediction models accordingly.”
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