Modeling large-scale human alteration of land surface hydrology and climate

Pokhrel, Y.N., Felfelani, F., Shin, S., Yamada, T.J., & Satoh, Y. (2017). Modeling large-scale human alteration of land surface hydrology and climate. Geoscience Letters 4 (1) 1-13. 10.1186/s40562-017-0076-5.

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Rapidly expanding human activities have profoundly affected various biophysical and biogeochemical processes of the Earth system over a broad range of scales, and freshwater systems are now amongst the most extensively altered ecosystems. In this study, we examine the human-induced changes in land surface water and energy balances and the associated climate impacts using a coupled hydrological–climate model framework which also simulates the impacts of human activities on the water cycle. We present three sets of analyses using the results from two model versions—one with and the other without considering human activities; both versions are run in offline and coupled mode resulting in a series of four experiments in total. First, we examine climate and human-induced changes in regional water balance focusing on the widely debated issue of the desiccation of the Aral Sea in central Asia. Then, we discuss the changes in surface temperature as a result of changes in land surface energy balance due to irrigation over global and regional scales. Finally, we examine the global and regional climate impacts of increased atmospheric water vapor content due to irrigation. Results indicate that the direct anthropogenic alteration of river flow in the Aral Sea basin resulted in the loss of ~510 km3 of water during the latter half of the twentieth century which explains about half of the total loss of water from the sea. Results of irrigation-induced changes in surface energy balance suggest a significant surface cooling of up to 3.3 K over 1° grids in highly irrigated areas but a negligible change in land surface temperature when averaged over sufficiently large global regions. Results from the coupled model indicate a substantial change in 2 m air temperature and outgoing longwave radiation due to irrigation, highlighting the non-local (regional and global) implications of irrigation. These results provide important insights on the direct human alteration of land surface water and energy balances, highlighting the need to incorporate human activities such as irrigation into the framework of global climate models and Earth system models for better prediction of future changes under increasing human influence and continuing global climate change.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Hydrology; Climate; Human impacts; Modeling
Research Programs: Water (WAT)
Depositing User: Romeo Molina
Date Deposited: 16 May 2017 07:36
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:28

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