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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 16 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 16 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ESD.

Climate-groundwater dynamics inferred from GRACE and the role of hydraulic memory

Simon Opie1, Richard G. Taylor1, Chris M. Brierley1, Mohammad Shamsudduha2, and Mark O. Cuthbert3,4 Simon Opie et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University College London, London, UK
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, UK
  • 3School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  • 4Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Abstract. Groundwater is the largest store of freshwater on Earth after the cryosphere and provides a substantial proportion of the water used for domestic, irrigation and industrial purposes. Knowledge of this essential resource remains incomplete, in part, because of observational challenges of scale and accessibility. Here we examine a 14-year period (2002–2016) of GRACE observations to investigate climate-groundwater dynamics of 14 tropical and sub-tropical aquifers selected from WHYMAP's 37 large aquifer systems of the world. GRACE-derived changes in groundwater storage resolved using GRACE JPL Mascons and the CLM Land Surface Model are related to precipitation time series and regional-scale hydrogeology. We show that aquifers in dryland environments exhibit long-term hydraulic memory through a strong correlation between groundwater storage changes and annual precipitation anomalies integrated over the time series; aquifers in humid environments show short-term memory through strong correlation with monthly precipitation. This classification is consistent with estimates of Groundwater Response Times calculated from the hydrogeological properties of each system, with long (short) hydraulic memory associated with slow (rapid) response times. The results suggest that groundwater systems in dryland environments may be less sensitive to seasonal climate variability but vulnerable to long-term trends from which they will be slow to recover. In contrast, aquifers in humid regions may be more sensitive to seasonal climate disturbances such as ENSO-related drought but may also be relatively quick to recover. Exceptions to this general pattern are traced to human interventions through groundwater abstraction. Hydraulic memory is an important factor in the management of groundwater resources, particularly under climate change.

Simon Opie et al.

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Simon Opie et al.

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Latest update: 31 Mar 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Knowledge of the relationship between climate and groundwater is limited and typically undermined by the scale, duration, and accessibility of observations. Using monthly satellite measurements newly compiled over 14 years in the tropics and sub-tropics, we show that the imprint of precipitation history on groundwater, hydraulic memory, is longer in drylands than humid environments, with important implications for the understanding and management of groundwater resources under climate change.
Knowledge of the relationship between climate and groundwater is limited and typically...