19 Jul 2021
19 Jul 2021
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Remotely sensed reservoir water storage dynamics (1984–2015) and the influence of climate variability and management at global scale

Jiawei Hou1, Albert van Dijk1, Hylke Beck2, Luigi Renzullo1, and Yoshihide Wada3 Jiawei Hou et al.
  • 1Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Australia
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, United States of America
  • 3International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria

Abstract. Many thousands of large dam reservoirs have been constructed worldwide during the last seventy years to increase reliable water supplies and support economic growth. Because reservoir storage measurements are generally not publicly available, so far there has been no global assessment of long-term dynamic changes in reservoir water volume. We overcame this by using optical (Landsat) and altimetry remote sensing to reconstruct monthly water storage for 6,743 reservoirs worldwide between 1984 and 2015. We relate reservoir storage to resilience and vulnerability and analyse their response to precipitation, streamflow and evaporation. We find reservoir storage has diminished substantially for 23 % of reservoirs over the three decades but increased for 21 %. The greatest declines were for dry basins in southeastern Australia (−29 %), the USA (−10 %), and eastern Brazil (−9 %). The greatest gains occurred in the Nile Basin (+67 %), Mediterranean basins (+31 %) and southern Africa (+22 %). Many of the observed reservoir changes were explained well by changes in precipitation and river inflows, emphasising the importance of multi-decadal precipitation changes for reservoir water storage, rather than changes in net evaporation or (demand-driven) dam water releases.

Jiawei Hou et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hess-2021-350', Anonymous Referee #1, 27 Sep 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on hess-2021-350', Anonymous Referee #2, 29 Sep 2021
  • RC3: 'Comment on hess-2021-350', Anonymous Referee #3, 19 Oct 2021

Jiawei Hou et al.


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Short summary
We used satellite imagery to measure monthly reservoir water volumes for 6,743 reservoirs worldwide for 1984–2015. We investigated how changing precipitation, streamflow, evaporation and human activity affected reservoir water storage. Almost half of the reservoirs showed significant increasing or decreasing trends over the past three decades. These changes appear caused, first and foremost, by changes in precipitation rather than by changes in net evaporation or dam release patterns.