Uncertainties in Past and Future Global Water Availability

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Justin Sheffield and Jonghun Kam, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, United States
Understanding how water availability changes on inter-annual to decadal time scales and how it may change in the future under climate change are a key part of understanding future stresses on water and food security. Historic evaluations of water availability on regional to global scales are generally based on large-scale model simulations with their associated uncertainties, in particular for long-term changes. Uncertainties are due to model errors and missing processes, parameter uncertainty, and errors in meteorological forcing data. Recent multi-model inter-comparisons and impact studies have highlighted large differences for past reconstructions, due to different simplifying assumptions in the models or the inclusion of physical processes such as CO2 fertilization. Modeling of direct anthropogenic factors such as water and land management also carry large uncertainties in their physical representation and from lack of socio-economic data. Furthermore, there is little understanding of the impact of uncertainties in the meteorological forcings that underpin these historic simulations. Similarly, future changes in water availability are highly uncertain due to climate model diversity, natural variability and scenario uncertainty, each of which dominates at different time scales. In particular, natural climate variability is expected to dominate any externally forced signal over the next several decades. We present results from multi-land surface model simulations of the historic global availability of water in the context of natural variability (droughts) and long-term changes (drying). The simulations take into account the impact of uncertainties in the meteorological forcings and the incorporation of water management in the form of reservoirs and irrigation. The results indicate that model uncertainty is important for short-term drought events, and forcing uncertainty is particularly important for long-term changes, especially uncertainty in precipitation due to reduced gauge density in recent years. We also discuss uncertainties in future projections from these models as driven by bias-corrected and downscaled CMIP5 climate projections, in the context of the balance between climate model robustness and climate model diversity.