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Depletion and response of deep groundwater to climate-induced pumping variability


Groundwater constitutes a critical component of our water resources. Widespread groundwater level declines have occurred in the USA over recent decades, including in regions not typically considered water stressed, such as areas of the Northwest and mid-Atlantic Coast. This loss of water storage reflects extraction rates that exceed natural recharge and capture. Here, we explore recent changes in the groundwater levels of deep aquifers from wells across the USA, and their relation to indices of interannual to decadal climate variability and to annual precipitation. We show that groundwater level changes correspond to selected global climate variations. Although climate-induced variations of deep aquifer natural recharge are expected to have multi-year time lags, we find that deep groundwater levels respond to climate over timescales of less than one year. In irrigated areas, the annual response to local precipitation in the deepest wells may reflect climate-induced pumping variability. An understanding of how the human response to drought through pumping leads to deep groundwater changes is critical to manage the impacts of interannual to decadal and longer climate variability on the nation’s water resources.

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Figure 1: Average groundwater level depth below ground surface for deep wells.
Figure 2: Average groundwater level rate of change from wells with statistically significant trends (p < 0.1) observed between 1940 and 2015.
Figure 3: Groundwater response to annual precipitation variability.


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Support for this work comes from NSF Water Sustainability and Climate Project #1360446, the Columbia Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, and the University of Chicago 1896 Pilot Project. We thank K. Mankoff for help with data collection and preprocessing. The data described in this paper are available from the USGS and NOAA websites.

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T.A.R. and U.L. contributed to the analysis and writing of this article.

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Correspondence to Tess A. Russo.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Russo, T., Lall, U. Depletion and response of deep groundwater to climate-induced pumping variability. Nature Geosci 10, 105–108 (2017).

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