Water in a Warming World

Water is the basis for life as we know it, in a biological as well as a societal sense. Under the combined influences of human development and a warming climate, supply and demand of water for consumption and irrigation, mineral exploration and energy production will change. In this joint web focus, Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change present overview articles, original research and opinion pieces that analyse the availability and governance of fresh water in a changing world.



Nature Geoscience: Scarce resource


Freshwater availability is likely to change in many regions. Humans must adapt — or move.

Nature Climate Change: Making a splash


A web focus spotlights some of the potential impacts of climate change on the world's water resources.



Nature Geoscience: Asia's water balance

W.W. Immerzeel & M.F.P. Bierkens


Multiple factors determine how much water is and will be available in the river basins of Asia. To expose hotspots and help adaptation, these factors must be assessed together at the basin level.


News & Views

Nature Geoscience: Hydrology: Complex water future

Heike Langenberg



Books & Arts

Nature Geoscience: Water and life

Frédéric Frappart


Frédéric Frappart reviews Water: All That Matters by Paul Younger



Nature Climate Change: Water at a crossroad

Interview with Pavel Kabat


Climate and water expert Pavel Kabat — director and CEO of the International Institute for Applied System Analysis in Austria — calls for a long-term system approach to water research, new partnerships with the developing world and a change in donor practices, to tackle water-climate issues. He talks to Nature Climate Change.



Nature Climate Change: Global insights about water, climate change and governance

Grafton et al.


The high levels of water extraction from the Colorado, Murray, Orange and Yellow rivers are shown to be the main cause of reduced flows in these systems. Changes in governance are urgently required to preserve the health of these rivers, especially in light of the present and future impacts of climate change.



Nature Climate Change: Groundwater and climate change

Taylor et al.


Groundwater is of crucial importance for water and food security and for sustaining ecosystems. This Review assesses the likely impacts of climate change on groundwater and groundwater-driven feedbacks to the climate system.

Nature Geoscience: Regional strategies for the accelerating global problem of groundwater depletion

W. Aeschbach-Hertig & T. Gleeson


The world's largest freshwater resource is groundwater. A review of our understanding of groundwater depletion suggests that although the problem is global, solutions must be adapted to specific regional requirements at the aquifer scale.



Nature Geoscience: Increased water storage in North America and Scandinavia from GRACE gravity data

Wang et al.


Changes in continental water storage have been difficult to constrain from space-borne gravity data in regions experiencing both ice melting and glacial isostatic adjustment. Separation of the hydrologic and isostatic signals reveals increases in water storage in both North America and Scandinavia over the past decade.

Nature Climate Change: Water-quality impacts from climate-induced forest die-off

Mikkelson et al.


Climate change is known to influence insect-induced tree mortality. Research now reveals knock-on implications for municipal water quality in Colorado, USA. Significantly higher levels of harmful disinfection by-products and total organic carbon were found in treatment facilities using water from mountain pine beetle-infested basins compared with unaffected watersheds.

Nature Climate Change: Increasing drought under global warming: reconciling observed and model-simulated changes

Dai et al.


Historical records show increased aridity over many land areas since 1950. This study looks at observations and model projections from 1923 to 2010, to test the ability of models to predict future drought conditions. Models are able to capture the greenhouse-gas forcing and El Niño–Southern Oscillation mode for historical periods, which inspires confidence in their projections of drought.


From the archives



Nature Geoscience: Thirst for energy

King et al.


Power generation as well as the production of fuels for transportation requires water, and the supply of high-quality freshwater is energy intensive. A growing population and climate change will increase the pressure on both resources.



Nature Climate Change: Snapshot: A drop to drink

Nicola Jones



Progress Article

Nature Geoscience: Vulnerability of deep groundwater in the Bengal Aquifer System to contamination by arsenic

Burgess et al.


Arsenic levels in shallow groundwater in the Bengal Basin exceed thresholds for safe drinking water. Groundwater modelling indicates that deep wells that reach safe water below 150 m could remain safe for centuries if used for domestic water only, whereas the intensive use of deep groundwater for irrigation could contaminate this resource within decades.



Nature Climate Change: Greenhouse-gas emissions from energy use in the water sector

Rothausen & Conway


The processes of abstraction, conveyance and treatment of fresh water and wastewater are all energy-intensive processes. This systematic review shows that the growing energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions from the water sector are under-recognized, suggesting the need for energy use to be further quantified and integrated into water resources management.



Nature Climate Change: Vulnerability of US and European electricity supply to climate change

Van Vliet et al.


Thermoelectric power in Europe and the United States is vulnerable to climate change. Here research relates lower summer river flows and higher river water temperatures as a result of climate change to thermoelectric plant capacity. Summer average capacity can decrease by 6.3–19% in Europe and 4.4–16% in the United States, depending on the cooling system type and climate scenario for 2031–2060.

Nature Geoscience: Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America

Schwalm et al.


The severity and incidence of climatic extremes, including drought, have increased as a result of climate warming. Analyses of observational and reanalysis data suggest that the strength of the western North American carbon sink declined by 30–298 Tg carbon per year during the drought at the turn of the century.

Nature Geoscience: Model estimates of sea-level change due to anthropogenic impacts on terrestrial water storage

Pokhrel et al.


Changes in terrestrial water storage are likely to affect sea level, but comprehensive and reliable data are scarce. Simulations of global terrestrial water stocks and flows, with an integrated model that specifically accounts for human activities, indicate that groundwater depletion and reservoir storage have together led to a sea-level rise of about 0.66 mm yr−1 between 1961 and 2003, about 36% of the observed rise.

Nature Climate Change: Vulnerability of coastal aquifers to groundwater use and climate change

Ferguson & Gleeson


There are concerns that sea-level rise resulting from climate change could lead to saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers. However, a study shows that groundwater extraction is the main driver of saltwater intrusion in the United States, highlighting the importance of sustainable water management.



Nature Geoscience: Snowfall increase in coastal East Antarctica linked with southwest Western Australian drought

Van Ommen & Morgan


The southwest corner of Western Australia has been subject to a serious drought in recent decades, whose ultimate cause remains unclear. A comparison of precipitation records in the area of drought and an ice core from East Antarctica reveal a significant inverse correlation between precipitation in the two locations, and suggest that the current drought may be highly unusual compared with the past 750 years of variability.


Beyond Boundaries

Nature Climate Change: Water and bioenergy


Interview with Arjen Hoekstra. Water management expert Arjen Hoekstra, together with environmental science and energy specialists, has analysed the impact of increasing the use of biofuels in the transport sector on global water demand.

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