30 October 2016

How will climate change affect water resources?

Options Magazine Winter 2016: Climate change and rising demand could contribute to significant depletion of groundwater in Africa by 2050.

© Sjors737 | Dreamstime

© Sjors737 | Dreamstime

With a warming climate, some countries have seen more drought, others more extreme rainfall, and a few have seen a combination of both. Understanding this interplay between climate change and the water cycle will be crucial for managing groundwater resources in the decades to come, especially in Africa, which is vulnerable to water shortages.

Consequently, IIASA scientists have investigated how climate change’s effects have impacted the potential groundwater recharge (PGR) patterns across Africa from 1960 to 2010. The researchers simulated the water balance and examined the correlations between PGR and climate indicators including the temperature, storm occurrences, and drought in six different climatic regions of Africa.

The study found that a decline of PGR is highly correlated with an increase in temperature in the areas of Africa that are in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Northern Equatorial Africa. In addition, higher rainfall rates did not always yield more PGR because of greater evapotranspiration—loss of water from plants and the Earth’s surface as the climate warms. “We found that climate variability has strong impacts on groundwater recharge in Africa,” says IIASA researcher Yoshihide Wada.

Future water demands are expected to increase dramatically in Africa by 2050 and increasing the pumping rate might deplete the local groundwater resources in some regions. “It is therefore important to understand the future potential change in groundwater recharge under climate change,” Wada says.

Text by Jane Palmer

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Last edited: 30 August 2017


Yoshihide Wada

Acting Program Director


T +43(0) 2236 807 241

Options Winter 2016


Nasta P, Gates JB, & Wada Y (2016). Impact of climate-indicators on continental-scale potential groundwater recharge in Africa. Hydrological Processes 30 (19): 3420-3433. DOI:10.1002/hyp.10869.

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