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Relative contribution of monsoon precipitation and pumping to changes in groundwater storage in India

Nature Geoscience volume 10, pages 109117 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

The depletion of groundwater resources threatens food and water security in India. However, the relative influence of groundwater pumping and climate variability on groundwater availability and storage remains unclear. Here we show from analyses of satellite and local well data spanning the past decade that long-term changes in monsoon precipitation are driving groundwater storage variability in most parts of India either directly by changing recharge or indirectly by changing abstraction. We find that groundwater storage has declined in northern India at the rate of 2 cm yr−1 and increased by 1 to 2 cm yr−1 in southern India between 2002 and 2013. We find that a large fraction of the total variability in groundwater storage in north-central and southern India can be explained by changes in precipitation. Groundwater storage variability in northwestern India can be explained predominantly by variability in abstraction for irrigation, which is in turn influenced by changes in precipitation. Declining precipitation in northern India is linked to Indian Ocean warming, suggesting a previously unrecognized teleconnection between ocean temperatures and groundwater storage.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge funding from the ITRA-Water project. Data availability from the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), and India Meteorological Department (IMD) is greatly appreciated.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar-382355, India

    • Akarsh Asoka
    •  & Vimal Mishra
  2. Department of Civil Engineering and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia V8P 5C2, Canada

    • Tom Gleeson
  3. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York 10025, USA

    • Yoshihide Wada
  4. Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Yoshihide Wada
  5. Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Domplein 29, 3512 JE, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Yoshihide Wada
  6. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Schlossplatz 1 - A-2361, Laxenburg, Austria

    • Yoshihide Wada

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Contributions

V.M. conceived the idea. A.A. collected, analysed the data and developed the methodology. T.G. and Y.W. contributed to discussions of the findings. Y.W. provided groundwater recharge and abstraction data from the PCR-GLOBWB model. V.M. and A.A. wrote the manuscript with contributions from T.G. and Y.W.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vimal Mishra.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2869