Interdependence of groundwater dynamics and land-energy feedbacks under climate change

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Climate change will have a significant impact on the hydrologic cycle, creating changes in freshwater resources, land cover and land–atmosphere feedbacks. Recent studies have investigated the response of groundwater to climate change but do not account for energy feedbacks across the complete hydrologic cycle1,2. Although land-surface models have begun to include an operational groundwater-type component3,4,5, they do not include physically based lateral surface and subsurface flow and allow only for vertical transport processes. Here we use a variably saturated groundwater flow model with integrated overland flow and land-surface model processes6,7,8 to examine the interplay between water and energy flows in a changing climate for the southern Great Plains, USA, an important agricultural region that is susceptible to drought. We compare three scenario simulations with modified atmospheric forcing in terms of temperature and precipitation with a simulation of present-day climate. We find that groundwater depth, which results from lateral water flow at the surface and subsurface, determines the relative susceptibility of regions to changes in temperature and precipitation. This groundwater control is critical to understand processes of recharge and drought in a changing climate.

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Figure 1: Spatial distribution of yearly averaged water and energy components from CNTRL and scenario calculations.
Figure 2: Semi-logarithmic plots of latent heat and PE as a function of water-table depth.


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This work carried out under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344 and was supported by the LLNL Climate Change Initiative.

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Correspondence to Reed M. Maxwell or Stefan J. Kollet.

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Maxwell, R., Kollet, S. Interdependence of groundwater dynamics and land-energy feedbacks under climate change. Nature Geosci 1, 665–669 (2008) doi:10.1038/ngeo315

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