The study, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), suggests that in many cases the reduced flows are associated with climate change. The process could potentially threaten future supplies of food and water.
The results will be published May 15 in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor.
The scientists, who examined stream flow from 1948 to 2004, found significant changes in about one-third of the world's largest rivers. Of those, rivers with decreased flow outnumbered those with increased flow by a ratio of about 2.5 to 1.
Several of the rivers channeling less water serve large populations, including the Yellow River in northern China, the Ganges in India, the Niger in West Africa, and the Colorado in the southwestern United States. In contrast, the scientists reported greater stream flow over sparsely populated areas near the Arctic Ocean, where snow and ice are rapidly melting.
"Reduced runoff is increasing the pressure on freshwater resources in much of the world, especially with more demand for water as population increases," says NCAR scientist Aiguo Dai, the lead author. "Freshwater being a vital resource, the downward trends are a great concern."
Many factors can affect river discharge, including dams and the diversion of water for agriculture and industry. The researchers found, however, that the reduced flows in many cases appear to be related to global climate change, which is altering precipitation patterns and increasing the rate of evaporation. The results are consistent with previous research by Dai and others showing widespread drying and increased drought over many land areas.
The study raises wider ecological and climate concerns. Discharge from the world's great rivers results in deposits of dissolved nutrients and minerals into the oceans. The freshwater flow also affects global ocean circulation patterns, which are driven by changes in salinity and temperature and which play a vital role in regulating the world's climate. Although the recent changes in the freshwater discharge are relatively small and may only have impacts around major river mouths, Dai said the freshwater balance in the global oceans needs to be monitored for any long-term changes.Conflicting studies
Dai and his co-authors analyzed the flows of 925 of the planet's largest rivers, combining actual measurements with computer-based stream flow models to fill in data gaps. The rivers in the study drain water from every major landmass except Antarctica and Greenland and account for 73 percent of the world's total stream flow.
Overall, the study found that, from 1948 to 2004, annual freshwater discharge into the Pacific Ocean fell by about 6 percent, or 526 cubic kilometers--approximately the same volume of water that flows out of the Mississippi River each year. The annual flow into the Indian Ocean dropped by about 3 percent, or 140 cubic kilometers. In contrast, annual river discharge into the Arctic Ocean rose about 10 percent, or 460 cubic kilometers.
In the United States, the Columbia River's flow declined by about 14 percent during the 1948-2004 study period, largely because of reduced precipitation and higher water usage in the West. The Mississippi River, however, has increased by 22 percent over the same period because of greater precipitation across the Midwest since 1948.
The impacts of melting
Some rivers, such as the Brahmaputra in South Asia and the Yangtze in China, have shown stable or increasing flows. But they could lose volume in future decades with the gradual disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers feeding them, the authors warned.
"As climate change inevitably continues in coming decades, we are likely to see greater impacts on many rivers and water resources that society has come to rely on," says NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth, a co-author of the study.
In times of climate change: What a lake’s colour can tell about its condition
21.09.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Did marine sponges trigger the ‘Cambrian explosion’ through ‘ecosystem engineering’?
21.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy