Simulation of hydrologic changes associated with global warming

Richard T. Wetherald, Syukuro Manabe

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181 Scopus citations


Using the results obtained from a coupled ocean-atmosphere-land model with medium computational resolution, we investigated how the hydrology of the continents changes in response to the combined increases of greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, which are determined based upon the IS92a scenario. In order to extract the forced response from natural, internal variability, the difference between the mean of an eight-member ensemble of numerical experiments and a control experiment are used for the present analysis. The global mean surface air temperature of the coupled model increases by about 2.3°C above the preindustrial level by the middle of the 21st century. Accompanying the warming, the global mean rates of both precipitation and evaporation increase by 5.2%, yielding the average increase in the rate of runoff by approximately 7.3%. The increase in the rate of runoff simulated by the model is particularly large in high northern latitudes, where the runoff from some rivers such as the Mackenzie and Ob′ may increase by as much as 20%. Runoff from many European rivers increases by more than 20%. Runoff also increases substantially in some tropical rivers such as the Amazon and Ganges. However, the percentage changes in simulated runoff from many other tropical rivers and middle latitude rivers are smaller with both positive and negative signs. In middle and high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, soil moisture tends to decrease in summer, whereas it increases in winter. However, in many semi-arid regions in subtropical and middle latitudes, soil moisture is reduced during most of a year. These semi-arid regions include the southwestern part of North America, the northeastern part of China in the Northern Hemisphere, and the region in the vicinity of the Kalahari Desert and southern part of Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. Since a semi-arid region usually surrounds a desert, the reduction of soil moisture in such a region often results in the expansion of the desert. Soil moisture is also reduced during the dry season in many semi-arid regions. For example, it is reduced in the savannahs of Africa and South America during winter and early spring in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is reduced at the Mediterranean coast of Europe in summer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)ACL 7-1-ACL 7-15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number19
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


  • Climate models
  • Coupled ocean-atmosphere models
  • Drought
  • Global warming
  • Runoff changes
  • Soil moisture changes


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