Articles | Volume 12, issue 3
29 May 2008
 | 29 May 2008

Global-scale modeling of groundwater recharge

P. Döll and K. Fiedler

Abstract. Long-term average groundwater recharge, which is equivalent to renewable groundwater resources, is the major limiting factor for the sustainable use of groundwater. Compared to surface water resources, groundwater resources are more protected from pollution, and their use is less restricted by seasonal and inter-annual flow variations. To support water management in a globalized world, it is necessary to estimate groundwater recharge at the global scale. Here, we present a best estimate of global-scale long-term average diffuse groundwater recharge (i.e. renewable groundwater resources) that has been calculated by the most recent version of the WaterGAP Global Hydrology Model WGHM (spatial resolution of 0.5° by 0.5°, daily time steps). The estimate was obtained using two state-of-the-art global data sets of gridded observed precipitation that we corrected for measurement errors, which also allowed to quantify the uncertainty due to these equally uncertain data sets. The standard WGHM groundwater recharge algorithm was modified for semi-arid and arid regions, based on independent estimates of diffuse groundwater recharge, which lead to an unbiased estimation of groundwater recharge in these regions. WGHM was tuned against observed long-term average river discharge at 1235 gauging stations by adjusting, individually for each basin, the partitioning of precipitation into evapotranspiration and total runoff. We estimate that global groundwater recharge was 12 666 km3/yr for the climate normal 1961–1990, i.e. 32% of total renewable water resources. In semi-arid and arid regions, mountainous regions, permafrost regions and in the Asian Monsoon region, groundwater recharge accounts for a lower fraction of total runoff, which makes these regions particularly vulnerable to seasonal and inter-annual precipitation variability and water pollution. Average per-capita renewable groundwater resources of countries vary between 8 m3/(capita yr) for Egypt to more than 1 million m3/(capita yr) for the Falkland Islands, the global average in the year 2000 being 2091 m3/(capita yr). Regarding the uncertainty of estimated groundwater resources due to the two precipitation data sets, deviation from the mean is 1.1% for the global value, and less than 1% for 50 out of the 165 countries considered, between 1 and 5% for 62, between 5 and 20% for 43 and between 20 and 80% for 10 countries. Deviations at the grid scale can be much larger, ranging between 0 and 186 mm/yr.