, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 677-692

Possible Impacts of Global Warming on the Hydrology of the Ogallala Aquifer Region

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Abstract

The Ogallala or High Plains aquifer provides water for about 20% of the irrigated land in the United States. About 20 km3 (16.6 million acre-feet) of water are withdrawn annually from this aquifer. In general, recharge has not compensated for withdrawals since major irrigation development began in this region in the 1940s. The mining of the Ogallala has been pictured as an analogue to climate change in that many GCMs predict a warmer and drier future for this region. In this paper we attempt to anticipate the possible impacts of climate change on the sustainability of the aquifer as a source of water for irrigation and other purposes in the region. We have applied HUMUS, the Hydrologic Unit Model of the U.S. to the Missouri and Arkansas-White-Red water resource regions that overlie the Ogallala. We have imposed three general circulation model (GISS, UKTR and BMRC) projections of future climate change on this region and simulated the changes that may be induced in water yields (runoff plus lateral flow) and ground water recharge. Each GCM was applied to HUMUS at three levels of global mean temperature (GMT) to represent increasing severity of climate change (a surrogate for time). HUMUS was also run at three levels of atmospheric CO2 concentration (hereafter denoted by [CO2]) in order to estimate the impacts of direct CO2 effects on photosynthesis and evapotranspiration. Since the UKTR and GISS GCMs project increased precipitation in the Missouri basin, water yields increase there. The BMRC GCM predicts sharply decreased precipitation and, hence, reduced water yields. Precipitation reductions are even greater in the Arkansas basin under BMRC as are the consequent water yield losses. GISS and UKTR climates lead to only moderate yield losses in the Arkansas. CO2-fertilization reverses these losses and yields increase slightly. CO2 fertilization increases recharge in the base (no climate change) case in both basins. Recharge is reduced under all three GCMs and severities of climate change.