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Hydroclimatic shifts driven by human water use for food and energy production

Abstract

Hydrological change is a central part of global change1,2,3. Its drivers in the past need to be understood and quantified for accurate projection of disruptive future changes4. Here we analyse past hydro-climatic, agricultural and hydropower changes from twentieth century data for nine major Swedish drainage basins, and synthesize and compare these results with other regional5,6,7 and global2 assessments of hydrological change by irrigation and deforestation. Cross-regional comparison shows similar increases of evapotranspiration by non-irrigated agriculture and hydropower as for irrigated agriculture. In the Swedish basins, non-irrigated agriculture has also increased, whereas hydropower has decreased temporal runoff variability. A global indication of the regional results is a net total increase of evapotranspiration that is larger than a proposed associated planetary boundary8. This emphasizes the need for climate and Earth system models to account for different human uses of water as anthropogenic drivers of hydro-climatic change. The present study shows how these drivers and their effects can be distinguished and quantified for hydrological basins on different scales and in different world regions. This should encourage further exploration of greater basin variety for better understanding of anthropogenic hydro-climatic change.

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Figure 1: Investigated hydrological basins and their temperature and precipitation characteristics.
Figure 2: Precipitation and runoff changes from the beginning to the end of the twentieth century (same periods as in Fig. 1b,c).
Figure 3: Potential (PET) and actual (ET) evapotranspiration relative to precipitation (P).
Figure 4: Typical variable co-development in Swedish basins (examples from Fig. 1a).
Figure 5: Contributions to evapotranspiration change from different drivers.

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Acknowledgements

The Swedish Research Council (VR, project number 2009-3221) and the strategic environmental research project EkoKlim at Stockholm University have supported this study.

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G.D. had the main responsibility for the study idea, methods, analysis, and writing the paper. F.J. and C.P. made major contributions to the Swedish data compilations and their interpretation.

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Correspondence to Georgia Destouni.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Destouni, G., Jaramillo, F. & Prieto, C. Hydroclimatic shifts driven by human water use for food and energy production. Nature Clim Change 3, 213–217 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1719

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