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Hydrometeorological feedbacks and changes in water storage and fluxes in northern India

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: NE/I022558/1
Funded under: NERC Funder Contribution: 394,970 GBP
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Hydrometeorological feedbacks and changes in water storage and fluxes in northern India

Description

The Gangetic Plain is a large fertile area at the foot of the Himalayas, covering most of northern India. Home to around 400 million inhabitants, it is one of the most densely inhabited regions in South-East Asia. With its fertile soils, monsoon precipitation and vast groundwater aquifers, the plains have been at the heart of the Indian agricultural revolution. Over the last 4 decades, the introduction of new fertilisers and crops, and the construction of large-scale irrigation systems have been major drivers of socio-economic development in the region. These practices have, however, also led to severe groundwater decline and strains on other water resources. Changing feedbacks of water and energy between the land-surface and atmosphere may have even altered the local climate system. A strong economic development is expected to continue these trends in the near future and future climate change is also expected to increase the pressure on local water resources systems. Identifying the major causes of observed historical changes in water availability and predicting the future impact of local water management strategies under climate change are particularly challenging, yet indispensable for the sustainable management of water resources. For example: assessing the sustainability of groundwater aquifers requires knowledge of global climate influences, but also of the influence of land-use, abstractions and soil moisture dynamics; furthermore, the unprecedented scale of land-use changes and increased irrigation are expected to have influenced local climate through feedbacks of water and energy. In order to unravel and quantify the impact of different drivers of change, a fully integrated analysis of the major water fluxes in the Gangetic Plain is needed. This study would be the first to analyse changes in the main water fluxes and feedbacks of the Gangetic Plain in a fully integrated modelling set-up. The approach will enable the separation of the impact of local and regional land use change from that of global climate drivers. We will develop a custom-built coupled hydrological model for the region using available groundwater and surface water modelling toolboxes. This model will be calibrated and tested using a variety of different sources of information, from local measurements, satellite observations and global climate (reanalysis) datasets. Subsequently, we will run the model with different land-use and water extraction scenarios. This will allow us to quantify the impact of land-use change and extraction on the main hydrological fluxes and water resources. At the same time, the hydrological model will generate high-resolution data about soil moisture changes resulting from historical land-use, as well as different hypothetical scenarios. By feeding these scenarios into a global climate model, we will study the potential feedbacks of large-scale changes in soil moisture on the Indian monsoon system. A pair of state-of-the-art global climate models will be used: the UK MetOffice Unified Model (MetUM) and the NCAR Community Atmosphere Model (CAM4). In a final step, the superimposed impact of climate change will be assessed and future predictions of water availability will be generated. For this purpose, we will use the new CMIP5 ensemble of climate models. Using a statistical approach, these models will be downscaled to a level useful for application over the Gangetic Plains. The integrated hydrological model can then be run with these future climate projections to assess the impact of future climate change on regional and local water availability. Two local case studies will address the usefulness of such projections and their uncertainties in a local ecosystem-oriented management setting.

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