Ground water and climate change

Journal name:
Nature Climate Change
Year published:
Published online
Corrected online


As the world's largest distributed store of fresh water, ground water plays a central part in sustaining ecosystems and enabling human adaptation to climate variability and change. The strategic importance of ground water for global water and food security will probably intensify under climate change as more frequent and intense climate extremes (droughts and floods) increase variability in precipitation, soil moisture and surface water. Here we critically review recent research assessing the impacts of climate on ground water through natural and human-induced processes as well as through groundwater-driven feedbacks on the climate system. Furthermore, we examine the possible opportunities and challenges of using and sustaining groundwater resources in climate adaptation strategies, and highlight the lack of groundwater observations, which, at present, limits our understanding of the dynamic relationship between ground water and climate.

At a glance


  1. Simplified version of a global groundwater resources map, highlighting the locations of regional aquifers systems.
    Figure 1: Simplified version of a global groundwater resources map9, highlighting the locations of regional aquifers systems.
  2. Conceptual representation of key interactions between ground water and climate.
    Figure 2: Conceptual representation of key interactions between ground water and climate.
  3. Global map of anthropogenic groundwater recharge rates in areas with substantial irrigation by surface water.
    Figure 3: Global map of anthropogenic groundwater recharge rates in areas with substantial irrigation by surface water.

    Rates are estimated from the difference between the return flow of irrigation water to ground water and total groundwater withdrawals for the period 1998 to 20022. Note that in areas with predominantly groundwater-fed irrigation or significant water withdrawals for domestic and industrial purposes, no anthropogenic groundwater recharge occurs; a net abstraction of ground water leads to groundwater depletion in regions with insufficient natural groundwater recharge.

Change history

Corrected online 03 December 2012
In the version of this Review Article originally published online, in Table 1, 'Flux-based method' and 'Volume-based method' should have cited refs 91 and 92, respectively. This error has now been corrected in all versions of the Review Article.


  1. Giordano, M. Global groundwater? Issues and solutions. Annu. Rev. Env. Resour. 34, 153178 (2009).
  2. Döll, P. et al. Impact of water withdrawals from groundwater and surface water on continental water storage variations. J. Geodyn. 59–60, 143156 (2012).
  3. Arnell, N. W. et al. in Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (eds McCarthy, J. J. et al.) Ch. 4 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003).
  4. Kundzewicz, Z. W. et al. in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (eds Parry, M. L. et al.) Ch. 3 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
  5. Dragoni, W. & Sukhija, B. S. Climate Change and Groundwater (Geological Society, 2008).
  6. Taniguchi, M. & Holman, I. P. Groundwater Response to Changing Climate (CRC, 2010).
  7. Treidel, H., Martin-Bordes, J. L. & Gurdak, J. J. Climate Change Effects on Groundwater Resources: A Global Synthesis of Findings and Recommendations (Taylor & Francis, 2012).
  8. Green, T. R. et al. Beneath the surface of global change: Impacts of climate change on groundwater. J. Hydrol. 405, 532560 (2011).
  9. Struckmeier, W. et al. Groundwater Resources of the World (1:25,000,000) (BGR & UNESCO World-wide Hydrogeological Mapping and Assessment Programme, 2008).
  10. De Vries, J. J., Selaolo, E. T & Beekman, H. E. Groundwater recharge in the Kalahari, with reference to paleo-hydrologic conditions. J. Hydrol. 238, 110123 (2000).
  11. Lehmann, B. E. et al. A comparison of groundwater dating with 81Kr, 36Cl and 4He in four wells of the Great Artesian Basin, Australia. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 211, 237250 (2003).
  12. Edmunds, W. M. et al. Groundwater evolution in the Continental Intercalaire aquifer of southern Algeria and Tunisia: Trace element and isotopic indicators. Appl. Geochem. 18, 805822 (2003).
  13. McMahon, P. B., Böhlke, J. K. & Christenson, S. C. Geochemistry, radiocarbon ages, and paleorecharge conditions along a transect in the central High Plains aquifer, southwestern Kansas, USA. Appl. Geochem. 19, 16551686 (2004).
  14. Scanlon, B. R. et al. Global synthesis of groundwater recharge in semiarid and arid regions. Hydrol. Proc. 20, 33353370 (2006).
  15. Foster, S. & Loucks, D. P. Non-Renewable Groundwater Resources — A Guidebook on Socially Sustainable Management for Water Policy Makers (UNESCO IHP, 2006).
  16. Gleick, P. H. Roadmap for sustainable water resources in southwestern North America. Proc. Nat Acad. Sci. USA 107, 2130021305 (2010).
  17. Döll, P. & Fiedler, K. Global-scale modeling of groundwater recharge. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 12, 863885 (2008).
  18. Wada, Y. et al. Global depletion of groundwater resources. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L20402 (2010).
  19. Döll, P. Vulnerability to the impact of climate change on renewable groundwater resources: A global-scale assessment. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 035006 (2009).
  20. Favreau, G. et al. Land clearing, climate variability, and water resources increase in semiarid southwest Niger: A review. Wat. Resour. Res. 45, W00A16 (2009).
  21. Taylor, R. G. et al. Dependence of groundwater resources on intense seasonal rainfall: evidence from East Africa. Nature Clim. Change (2012).
  22. Gurdak, J. J., McMahon, P. B. & Bruce, B. W. in Climate Change Effects on Groundwater Resources: A Global Synthesis of Findings and Recommendations (eds Treidel, H., Martin-Bordes, J. L. & Gurdak, J. J.) 145168 (CRC, 2012).
  23. Leblanc, M. J. et al. Basin-scale, integrated observations of the early 21st century multiyear drought in southeast Australia. Wat. Resour. Res. 45, W04408 (2009).
  24. Owor, M., Taylor, R. G., Tindimugaya, C. & Mwesigwa, D. Rainfall intensity and groundwater recharge: Evidence from the Upper Nile Basin. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 035009 (2009).
  25. Small, E. E. Climatic controls on diffuse groundwater recharge in semiarid environments of the southwestern United States. Wat. Resour. Res. 41, W04012 (2005).
  26. Pool, D. R. Variations in climate and ephemeral channel recharge in southeastern Arizona, United States. Wat. Resour. Res. 41, W11403 (2005).
  27. Taylor, R. G. et al. in Groundwater and Climate in Africa (eds Taylor, R. et al.) 1519 (IAHS, 2009).
  28. Scanlon, B. R. et al. Ecological controls on water-cycle response to climate variability in deserts. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 102, 60336038 (2005).
  29. Tague, C. & Grant, G. E. Groundwater dynamics mediate low-flow response to global warming in snow-dominated alpine regions. Wat. Resour. Res. 45, W07421 (2009).
  30. Sultana, Z. & Coulibaly, P. Distributed modelling of future changes in hydrological processes of Spencer Creek watershed. Hydrol. Proc. 25, 12541270 (2010).
  31. Allen, D. M., Whitfield, P. H. & Werner, A. Groundwater level responses in temperate mountainous terrain: Regime classification, and linkages to climate and streamflow. Hydrol. Proc. 24, 33923412 (2010).
  32. Gremaud, V. et al. Geological structure, recharge processes and underground drainage of a glacierised karst aquifer system, Tsanfleuron-Sanetsch, Swiss Alps. Hydrogeol. J. 17, 18331848 (2009).
  33. Immerzeel, W. W. et al. Hydrological response to climate change in a glacierized catchment in the Himalayas. Climatic Change 110, 721736 (2012).
  34. Michel, F. A. & van Everdingen, R. O. Changes in hydrogeologic regimes in permafrost regions due to climatic change. Permafrost Periglac. 5, 191195 (1994).
  35. Okkonen, J. & Kløve, B. A sequential modelling approach to assess groundwater-surface water resources in a snow dominated region of Finland. J. Hydrol. 411, 91107 (2011).
  36. Leblanc, M. et al. Land clearance and hydrological change in the Sahel. Glob. Planet. Change 61, 135150 (2008).
  37. Cartwright, I., Weaver, T. R., Stone, D. & Reid, M. Constraining modern and historical recharge from bore hydrographs, 3H, 14C, and chloride concentrations: Applications to dual-porosity aquifers in dryland salinity areas, Murray Basin, Australia. J. Hydrol. 332, 6992 (2007).
  38. Leblanc, M., Tweed, S., van Dijk, A. & Timbal, B. A review of historic and future hydrological changes in the Murray-Darling Basin. Glob. Planet. Change 80–81, 226246 (2012).
  39. Scanlon, B. R. et al. Effects of irrigated agroecosystems. 2. Quality of soil water and groundwater in the Southern High Plains, Texas. Wat. Resour. Res. 46, W09538 (2010).
  40. Chen J. Y. Holistic assessment of groundwater resources and regional environmental problems in the North China Plain. Environ. Earth Sci. 61, 10371047 (2010).
  41. Rodell, M., Velicogna, I. & Famiglietti, J. S. Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India. Nature 460, 9991002 (2009).
  42. Longuevergne, L., Scanlon, B. R. & Wilson, C. R. GRACE hydrological estimates for small basins: Evaluating processing approaches on the High Plains Aquifer, USA. Wat. Resour. Res. 46, W11517 (2010).
  43. Scanlon, B. R. et al. Groundwater depletion and sustainability of irrigation in the US High Plains and Central Valley. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 109, 93209325 (2012).
  44. Foster, S. et al. The Guarani Aquifer Initiative — Towards Realistic Groundwater Management in a Transboundary Context (World Bank, 2009).
  45. Shamsudduha, M., Taylor, R. G. & Longuevergne, L. Monitoring groundwater storage changes in the Bengal Basin: Validation of GRACE measurements. Wat. Resour. Res. 48, W02508 (2012).
  46. Famiglietti, J. S. et al. Satellites measure recent rates of groundwater depletion in California's Central Valley. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L03403 (2011).
  47. Scanlon, B. R., Longuevergne, L. & Long, D. Ground referencing GRACE satellite estimates of groundwater storage changes in the California Central Valley, US. Wat. Resour. Res. 48, W04520 (2012).
  48. Faunt, C. C. Groundwater Availability of the Central Valley Aquifer, California (US Geological Survey, 2009).
  49. Van Geen, A. et al. Flushing history as a hydrogeological control on the regional distribution of arsenic in shallow groundwater of the Bengal basin. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 22832288 (2008).
  50. Shamsudduha, M. Groundwater dynamics and arsenic mobilisation in Bangladesh: A national-scale characterisation PhD thesis, Univ. College London (2011).
  51. Bates, B. C., Kundzewicz, Z. W., Wu, S. & Palutikof, J. P. Climate Change and Water Technical Paper of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change VI (IPCC, 2008).
  52. Allan, R. P. & Soden, B. J. Atmospheric warming and the amplification of precipitation extremes. Science 321, 14811484 (2008).
  53. IPCC Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (eds Field, C. B. et al.) (IPCC 2011); available at
  54. Döll, P. Impact of climate change and variability on irrigation requirements: A global perspective. Climatic Change 54, 269293 (2002).
  55. Falloon, P. & Betts, R. Climate impacts on European agriculture and water management in the context of adaptation and mitigation — the importance of an integrated approach. Sci. Total Environ. 408, 56675687 (2010).
  56. Hanson, R. T. et al. A method for physically based model analysis of conjunctive use in response to potential climate changes. Wat. Resour. Res. 48, W00L08 (2012).
  57. Crosbie, R. et al. An assessment of climate change impacts on groundwater recharge at a continental scale using a probabilistic approach with an ensemble of GCMs. Climatic Change (2012).
  58. Hiscock, K., Sparkes, R. & Hodgson, A. in Climate Change Effects of Groundwater Resources: A Global Synthesis of Findings and Recommendations (eds Treidel, H., Martin-Bordes, J. L. & Gurdak, J. J.) 351365 (CRC, 2011).
  59. Taylor, R. G., Koussis, A. & Tindimugaya, C. Groundwater and climate in Africa: A review. Hydrol. Sci. J. 54, 655664 (2009).
  60. Jackson C. R., Meister, R. & Prudhomme, C. Modelling the effects of climate change and its uncertainty on UK Chalk groundwater resources from an ensemble of global climate model projections. J. Hydrol. 399, 1228 (2011).
  61. Allen, D. M. et al. Variability in simulated recharge using different GCMs. Wat. Resour. Res. 46, W00F03 (2010).
  62. Crosbie, R. S. et al. Differences in future recharge estimates due to GCMs, downscaling methods and hydrological models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L11406 (2011)
  63. Holman I. P., Tascone D. & Hess, T. M. A comparison of stochastic and deterministic downscaling methods for modelling potential groundwater recharge under climate change in East Anglia UK: Implications for groundwater resource management. Hydrogeol. J. 17, 16291641 (2009).
  64. Stoll, S. et al. Analysis of the impact of climate change on groundwater related hydrological fluxes: A multi-model approach including different downscaling methods. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 15, 2138 (2011).
  65. Mileham, L. et al. Climate change impacts on the terrestrial hydrology of a humid, equatorial catchment: Sensitivity of projections to rainfall intensity. Hydrol. Sci. J. 54, 727738 (2009).
  66. Crosbie, R., McCallum, J., Walker, G. & Chiew, F. Episodic recharge and climate change in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Hydrogeol. J. 20, 245261 (2012).
  67. Cao, L. et al. Importance of carbon dioxide physiological forcing to future climate change. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci USA. 107, 95139518 (2010).
  68. McCallum, J. L. et al. Impacts of climate change on groundwater in Australia: A sensitivity analysis of recharge. Hydrogeol. J. 18, 16251638 (2010).
  69. Ozdogan, M., Rodell, M., Beaudoing, H. K. & Toll, D. Simulating the effects of irrigation over the US in a land surface model based on satellite derived agricultural data. J. Hydrometeor. 11, 171184 (2010).
  70. DeAngelis, A. et al. Evidence of enhanced precipitation due to irrigation over the Great Plains of the United States. J. Geophys. Res. 115, D15115 (2010).
  71. Kustu, D., Fan, Y. & Rodell, M. Possible link between irrigation in the US High Plains and increased summer streamflow in the Midwest. Wat. Resour. Res. 47, W03522 (2011).
  72. Lo, M.-H. & Famiglietti, J. S. Irrigation in California's Central Valley strengthens the southwestern US monsoon. Am. Geophys. Union, Fall Meeting H24E-06 (2011); available at
  73. Douglas, E. M. et al. Simulating changes in land-atmosphere interactions from expanding agriculture and irrigation in India and the potential impacts on the Indian monsoon. Glob. Planet. Change 67, 117128 (2009).
  74. Miguez-Macho G. & Fan, Y. The role of groundwater in the Amazon water cycle. 2. Influence on seasonal soil moisture and evapotranspiration. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D1511 (2012).
  75. Maxwell, R. M. & Miller, N. L. Development of a coupled land surface and groundwater model. J. Hydrometeorol. 6, 233247 (2005).
  76. Kollet, S. J. & Maxwell, R. M. Capturing the influence of groundwater dynamics on land surface processes using an integrated, distributed watershed model. Wat. Resour. Res. 44, W02402 (2008).
  77. Ferguson, I. M. & Maxwell, R. M. The role of groundwater in watershed response and land surface feedbacks under climate change. Wat. Resour. Res. 46, W00F02 (2010).
  78. Maxwell, R. M., Chow, F. K. & Kollet, S. J. The groundwater–land-surface–atmosphere connection: Soil moisture effects on the atmospheric boundary layer in fully-coupled simulations. Adv. Wat. Resour. 30, 24472466 (2007).
  79. Maxwell, R. M. et al. Development of a coupled groundwater-atmospheric model. Mon. Weather Rev. 139, 96116 (2011).
  80. Fan, Y. & Miguez-Macho, G. A simple hydrologic framework for simulating wetlands in climate and earth system models. Clim. Dyn. 37, 253278 (2011).
  81. Toth, J. A theoretical analysis of groundwater flow in small drainage basins. J. Geophys. Res. 68, 47954812 (1963).
  82. Schaller, M. & Fan, Y. River basins as groundwater exporters and importers: Implications for water cycle and climate modeling. J. Geophys. Res. 114, D04103 (2009).
  83. Raymond, P. A. et al. Anthropogenically enhanced fluxes of water and carbon from the Mississippi River. Nature 451, 449452 (2011).
  84. Small, C. & Nicholls, R. J. A global analysis of human settlement in coastal zones. J. Coast. Res. 19, 584599 (2003).
  85. Bindoff, N. et al. in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S et al.) 385432 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
  86. Oude Essink, G. H. P., van Baaren, E. S. & de Louw, P. G. B. Effects of climate change on coastal groundwater systems: A modeling study in the Netherlands. Wat. Resour. Res. 46, W00F04 (2010).
  87. Ferguson, G. & Gleeson, T. Vulnerability of coastal aquifers to groundwater use and climate change. Nature Clim. Change 2, 342345 (2012).
  88. Yakirevich, A. et al. Simulation of seawater intrusion into the Khan Yunis area of the Gaza Strip coastal aquifer. Hydrogeol. J. 6, 549559 (1998).
  89. Taniguchi M. Groundwater and Subsurface Environments — Human Impacts in Asian Coastal Cities (Springer, 2011).
  90. IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (Solomon, S. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
  91. Wada, Y. et al. Past and future contribution of global groundwater depletion to sea-level rise, Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09402 (2012).
  92. Konikow, L. F. Contribution of global groundwater depletion since 1900 to sea-level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L17401 (2011).
  93. Pokhrel, Y. N. et al. Model estimates of sea-level change due to anthropogenic impacts on terrestrial water storage. Nature Geosci. 5, 389392 (20 May 2012).
  94. Hussain, I. & Hanjra, M. A. Irrigation and poverty alleviation: Review of the empirical evidence. Irrig. Drain. 53, 115 (2004).
  95. Vrba, J. & Verhagen, B. T. Groundwater for Emergency Situations: A Methodological Guide (UNESCO IHP, 2011).
  96. Holman, I. P., Allen, D. M., Cuthbert, M. O. & Goderniaux, P. Towards best practice for assessing the impacts of climate change on groundwater. Hydrogeol. J. 20, 14 (2012).
  97. Gleeson, T. et al. Towards sustainable groundwater use: Setting long-term goals, backcasting, and managing adaptively. Ground Water 50, 1926 (2012).
  98. Sukhija, B. S. Adaptation to climate change: Strategies for sustaining groundwater resources during droughts. Geol. Soc. Sp. 288, 169181 (2008).
  99. Shamsudduha, M., Taylor, R. G., Ahmed, K. M. & Zahid, A. The impact of intensive groundwater abstraction on recharge to a shallow regional aquifer system: Evidence from Bangladesh. Hydrogeol. J. 19, 901916 (2011).
  100. MacDonald, A. et al. Quantitative maps of groundwater resources in Africa. Environ. Res. Lett. 7, 024009 (2012).

Download references

Author information


  1. Department of Geography, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Richard G. Taylor
  2. Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Texas 78758-4445, USA

    • Bridget Scanlon
  3. Institute of Physical Geography, University of Frankfurt, Frankfurt D-60054, Germany

    • Petra Döll
  4. Hydrological Science Branch, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Matt Rodell
  5. Department of Physical Geography, University of Utrecht, Utrecht 3508 TC, The Netherlands

    • Rens van Beek,
    • Yoshihide Wada &
    • Marc F. P. Bierkens
  6. Géosciences Rennes, Université de Rennes 1, Rennes 35042, France

    • Laurent Longuevergne
  7. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, NCGRT, James Cook University, Cairns QLD 4870, Australia

    • Marc Leblanc
  8. UC Center for Hydrologic Modelling, University of California, Irvine, California 92617, USA

    • James S. Famiglietti
  9. School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

    • Mike Edmunds
  10. U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia 20192, USA

    • Leonard Konikow
  11. Agricultural Systems Research Unit, USDA-ARS, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, USA

    • Timothy R. Green
  12. School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China

    • Jianyao Chen
  13. Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto 630-8047, Japan

    • Makoto Taniguchi
  14. British Geological Survey, Edinburgh EH9 3LA, UK

    • Alan MacDonald
  15. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, New Jersey 08901, USA

    • Ying Fan
  16. Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA

    • Reed M. Maxwell
  17. Geological Survey of Israel, Jerusalem 95501, Israel

    • Yossi Yechieli
  18. Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California 94132, USA

    • Jason J. Gurdak
  19. Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada

    • Diana M. Allen
  20. Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Mohammad Shamsudduha
  21. School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Kevin Hiscock
  22. International Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (ICHARM), UNESCO, Tsukuba 153-8505, Japan

    • Pat J.-F. Yeh
  23. Environmental Science and Technology Department, Cranfield University, Milton Keynes MK43 0AL, UK

    • Ian Holman
  24. Division of Water Sciences, UNESCO-IHP, Paris 75732 Cedex 15, France

    • Holger Treidel

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to:

Author details

Additional data