Articles | Volume 14, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 1–24, 2010
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 14, 1–24, 2010

  06 Jan 2010

06 Jan 2010

Reconstructing 20th century global hydrography: a contribution to the Global Terrestrial Network- Hydrology (GTN-H)

D. Wisser1, B. M. Fekete2, C. J. Vörösmarty2, and A. H. Schumann3 D. Wisser et al.
  • 1Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, USA
  • 2Civil Engineering Department, City College of New York, CUNY, New York, USA
  • 3Institute of Hydrology, Water Resources Management and Environmental Engineering, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany

Abstract. This paper presents a new reconstruction of the 20th century global hydrography using fully coupled water balance and transport model in a flexible modeling framework. The modeling framework allows a high level of configurability both in terms of input forcings and model structure. Spatial and temporal trends in hydrological cycle components are assessed under "pre-industrial" conditions (without modern-day human activities) and contemporary conditions (incorporating the effects of irrigation and reservoir operations). The two sets of simulations allow the isolation of the trends arising from variations in the climate input driver alone and from human interventions. The sensitivity of the results to variations in input data was tested by using three global gridded datasets of precipitation.

Our findings confirm that the expansion of irrigation and the construction of reservoirs has significantly and gradually impacted hydrological components in individual river basins. Variations in the volume of water entering the oceans annually, however, are governed primarily by variations in the climate signal alone with human activities playing a minor role. Globally, we do not find a significant trend in the terrestrial discharge over the last century.

The largest impact of human intervention on the hydrological cycle arises from the operation of reservoirs that drastically changes the seasonal pattern of horizontal water transport in the river system and thereby directly and indirectly affects a number of processes such as ability to decompose organic matter or the cycling of nutrients in the river system.