, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 137-160

Regional hydrologic consequences of increases in atmospheric CO2 and other trace gases

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Abstract

Concern over changes in global climate caused by growing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other trace gases has increased in recent years as our understanding of atmospheric dynamics and global climate systems has improved. Yet despite a growing understanding of climatic processes, many of the effects of human-induced climatic changes are still poorly understood. Major alterations in regional hydrologic cycles and subsequent changes in regional water availability may be the most important effects of such climatic changes. Unfortunately, these are among the least well-understood impact. Water-balance modeling techniques - modified for assessing climatic impacts - were developed and tested for a major watershed in northern California using climate-change scenarios from both state-of-the-art general circulation models and from a series of hypothetical scenarios. Results of this research suggest strongly that plausible changes in temperature and precipitation caused by increases in atmospheric trace-gas concentrations could have major impacts on both the timing and magnitude of runoff and soil moisture in important agricultural areas. Of particular importance are predicted patterns of summer soil-moisture drying that are consistent across the entire range of tested scenarios. The decreases in summer soil moisture range from 8 to 44%. In addition, consistent changes were observed in the timing of runoff-specifically dramatic increases in winter runoff and decreases in summer runoff. These hydrologic results raise the possibility of major environmental and socioeconomic difficulties and they will have significant implications for future water-resource planning and management.