Simulated long-term changes in river discharge and soil moisture due to global warming

Syukuro Manabe, P. C.D. Milly, Richard Wetherald

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By use of a coupled ocean atmosphere-land model, this study explores the changes of water availability, as measured by river discharge and soil moisture, that could occur by the middle of the 21st century in response to combined increases of greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols based upon the "IS92a" scenario. In addition, it presents the simulated change in water availability that might be realized in a few centuries in response to a quadrupling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Averaging the results over extended periods, the radiatively forced changes, which are very similar between the two sets of experiments, were successfully extracted. The analysis indicates that the discharges from Arctic rivers such as the Mackenzie and Ob' increase by up to 20% (of the pre-Industrial Period level) by the middle of the 21st century and by up to 40% or more in a few centuries. In the tropics, the discharges from the Amazonas and Ganga-Brahmaputra rivers increase substantially. However, the percentage changes in runoff from other tropical and many mid-latitude rivers are smaller, with both positive and negative signs. For soil moisture, the results of this study indicate reductions during much of the year in many semiarid regions of the world, such as the southwestern region of North America, the northeastern region of China, the Mediterranean coast of Europe, and the grasslands of Australia and Africa. As a percentage, the reduction is particularly large during the dry season. From middle to high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, soil moisture decreases in summer but increases in winter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-642
Number of pages18
JournalHydrological Sciences Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • Coupled model
  • Global climate change
  • Global warming
  • Potential evaporation
  • Precipitation
  • River discharge
  • Soil moisture
  • Water availability


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