Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1517–1531, 2012
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1517–1531, 2012

Research article 23 May 2012

Research article | 23 May 2012

Spatio-temporal impact of climate change on the groundwater system

J. Dams1, E. Salvadore1,2, T. Van Daele3, V. Ntegeka4, P. Willems1,4, and O. Batelaan1,5 J. Dams et al.
  • 1Department of Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
  • 2Flemish Institute for Technological Research, Boeretang 200, 2400 Mol, Belgium
  • 3Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Kliniekstraat 25, 1070 Brussels, Belgium
  • 4Hydraulics Division, Department of Civil Engineering, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Kasteelpark Arenberg 40, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium
  • 5Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200e, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium

Abstract. Given the importance of groundwater for food production and drinking water supply, but also for the survival of groundwater dependent terrestrial ecosystems (GWDTEs) it is essential to assess the impact of climate change on this freshwater resource. In this paper we study with high temporal and spatial resolution the impact of 28 climate change scenarios on the groundwater system of a lowland catchment in Belgium. Our results show for the scenario period 2070–2101 compared with the reference period 1960–1991, a change in annual groundwater recharge between −20% and +7%. On average annual groundwater recharge decreases 7%. In most scenarios the recharge increases during winter but decreases during summer. The altered recharge patterns cause the groundwater level to decrease significantly from September to January. On average the groundwater level decreases about 7 cm with a standard deviation between the scenarios of 5 cm. Groundwater levels in interfluves and upstream areas are more sensitive to climate change than groundwater levels in the river valley. Groundwater discharge to GWDTEs is expected to decrease during late summer and autumn as much as 10%, though the discharge remains at reference-period level during winter and early spring. As GWDTEs are strongly influenced by temporal dynamics of the groundwater system, close monitoring of groundwater and implementation of adaptive management measures are required to prevent ecological loss.