For example, in places where annual rainfall may increase by 20 percent as a result of climate change, the groundwater might increase as much as 40 percent.
Conversely, the analysis showed in some cases just a 20 percent decrease in rainfall could lead to a 70 percent decrease in the recharging of local aquifers — a potentially devastating blow in semi-arid and arid regions.
But the exact effects depend on a complex mix of factors, the study found — including soil type, vegetation, and the exact timing and duration of rainfall events — so detailed studies will be required for each local region in order to predict the possible range of outcomes.
The research was conducted by Gene-Hua Crystal Ng, now a postdoctoral researcher in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), along with King Bhumipol Professor Dennis McLaughlin and Bacardi Stockholm Water Foundations Professor Dara Entekhabi, both of CEE, and Bridget Scanlon, a senior researcher at the University of Texas. The results are being presented Wednesday, Dec. 17, at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.
The analysis combines computer modeling and natural chloride tracer data to determine how precipitation, soil properties, and vegetation affect the transport of water from the surface to the aquifers below. This analysis focused on a specific semi-arid region near Lubbock, Texas, in the southern High Plains.
Predictions of the kinds and magnitudes of precipitation changes that may occur as the planet warms are included in the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and are expressed as ranges of possible outcomes. "Because there is so much uncertainty, we wanted to be able to bracket" the expected impact on water supplies under the diverse climate projections, Ng says.
"What we found was very interesting," Ng says. "It looks like the changes in recharge could be even greater than the changes in climate. For a given percentage change in precipitation, we're getting even greater changes in recharge rates."
Among the most important factors, the team found, is the timing and duration of the precipitation. For example, it makes a big difference whether it comes in a few large rainstorms or many smaller ones, and whether most of the rainfall occurs in winter or summer. "Changes in precipitation are often reported as annual changes, but what affects recharge is when the precipitation happens, and how it compares to the growing season," she says.
The team presented the results as a range of probabilities, quantifying as much as possible "what we do and don't know" about the future climate and land-surface conditions, Ng says. "For each prediction of climate change, we get a distribution of possible recharge values."
If most of the rain falls while plants are growing, much of the water may be absorbed by the vegetation and released back into the atmosphere through transpiration, so very little percolates down to the aquifer. Similarly, it makes a big difference whether an overall increase in rainfall comes in the form of harder rainfalls, or more frequent small rainfalls. More frequent small rainstorms may be mostly soaked up by plants, whereas a few more intense events may be more likely to saturate the soil and increase the recharging effect.
"It's tempting to say that a doubling of the precipitation will lead to a doubling of the recharge rate," Ng says, "but when you look at how it's going to impact a given area, it gets more and more complicated. The results were startling."
Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica
05.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering