Articles | Volume 20, issue 10
Research article
12 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 12 Oct 2016

A seawater desalination scheme for global hydrological models

Naota Hanasaki, Sayaka Yoshikawa, Kaoru Kakinuma, and Shinjiro Kanae

Abstract. Seawater desalination is a practical technology for providing fresh water to coastal arid regions. Indeed, the use of desalination is rapidly increasing due to growing water demand in these areas and decreases in production costs due to technological advances. In this study, we developed a model to estimate the areas where seawater desalination is likely to be used as a major water source and the likely volume of production. The model was designed to be incorporated into global hydrological models (GHMs) that explicitly include human water usage. The model requires spatially detailed information on climate, income levels, and industrial and municipal water use, which represent standard input/output data in GHMs. The model was applied to a specific historical year (2005) and showed fairly good reproduction of the present geographical distribution and national production of desalinated water in the world. The model was applied globally to two periods in the future (2011–2040 and 2041–2070) under three distinct socioeconomic conditions, i.e., SSP (shared socioeconomic pathway) 1, SSP2, and SSP3. The results indicate that the usage of seawater desalination will have expanded considerably in geographical extent, and that production will have increased by 1.4–2.1-fold in 2011–2040 compared to the present (from 2.8  ×  109 m3 yr−1 in 2005 to 4.0–6.0  ×  109 m3 yr−1), and 6.7–17.3-fold in 2041–2070 (from 18.7 to 48.6  ×  109 m3 yr−1). The estimated global costs for production for each period are USD 1.1–10.6  ×  109 (0.002–0.019 % of the total global GDP), USD 1.6–22.8  ×  109 (0.001–0.020 %), and USD 7.5–183.9  ×  109 (0.002–0.100 %), respectively. The large spreads in these projections are primarily attributable to variations within the socioeconomic scenarios.

Short summary
Although seawater desalination has been widely implemented and used as a key source of water in arid regions, it has been seldom included in global water resource assessments based on numerical simulations. We first developed a global model to estimate the areal extent and production of seawater desalination which was designed to be incorporated with global hydrological models. The model was applied to future periods under three distinct socioeconomic conditions.