Skip to content

Climate Change and the Hydrologic Cycle

Contacts, for more information:

As climate changes, so too does the movement of water through land, oceans, and atmosphere. Consequently, climate change undermines the commonly-held notion that past behavior of elements of our water supply–rivers, floods, droughts–provides us with statistics directly transferable applicable to the future. As changing climate alters the behavior of water, climate science is called upon to provide information about the future of the water cycle. Climate-change research at GFDL addresses this need.

GFDL Research

For many years, GFDL scientists have been at the forefront of research on the hydrologic cycle, understanding how it fits in the full earth-atmosphere system, and how it may change in the coming decades and centuries. Important results have addressed issues of stationarity?the idea that water supplies, floods, and droughts will behave in the future as they did in the past?as well as the interplay between energy balance and the global hydrologic cycle.

Process-based studies have focused on understanding the role of the land surface on climate, with research looking into the regional impact of historical or hypothetical (future scenario) land-use change on climate, as well as understanding diurnal-scale relationships between surface fluxes of heat and moisture and subsequent atmospheric processes such as convection and the generation of precipitation.

The impact of aerosols on monsoonal development and the role of ocean temperatures on droughts have also received much attention. While this research has been underway, GFDL scientists have also embarked on extensive development of the land surface model, including integrated and detailed treatment of surface and groundwater hydrology as well as dynamic vegetation including the carbon cycle and human land use/alteration.

Featured Results

Related Links


  • Shevliakova, Elena, Ronald J Stouffer, Sergey Malyshev, John P Krasting, G C Hurtt, and S W Pacala, October 2013: Historical warming reduced due to enhanced land carbon uptake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(42), DOI:10.1073/pnas.1314047110.
  • Seneviratne, S I., A Berg, Kirsten L Findell, and Sergey Malyshev, et al., October 2013: Impact of soil moisture-climate feedbacks on CMIP5 projections: First results from the GLACE-CMIP5 experiment. Geophysical Research Letters, 40(19), DOI:10.1002/grl.50956.
  • Kapnick, S B., and Thomas L Delworth, August 2013: Controls of Global Snow Under a Changed Climate. Journal of Climate, 26(15), DOI:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00528.1.
  • Berg, A, Kirsten L Findell, B R Lintner, P Gentine, and Christopher Kerr, June 2013: Precipitation sensitivity to surface heat fluxes over North America in reanalysis and model data. Journal of Hydrometeorology, 14(3), DOI:10.1175/JHM-D-12-0111.1.
  • Villarini, G, J A Smith, and Gabriel A Vecchi, January 2013: Changing Frequency of Heavy Rainfall Over the Central United States. Journal of Climate, 26(1), DOI:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00043.1.
  • Lintner, B R., M Biasutti, N S Diffenbaugh, J E Lee, M J Niznik, and Kirsten L Findell, June 2012: Amplification of wet and dry month occurrence over tropical land regions in response to global warming. Journal of Geophysical Research, 117, D11106, DOI:10.1029/2012JD017499.
  • Findell, Kirsten L., P Gentine, B R Lintner, and Christopher Kerr, June 2011: Probability of afternoon precipitation in eastern United States and Mexico enhanced by high evaporation. Nature Geoscience, 4(7), DOI:10.1038/ngeo1174.
  • Milly, P C., and Krista A Dunne, January 2011: On the hydrologic adjustment of climate-model projections: The potential pitfall of potential evapotranspiration. Earth Interactions, 15(1), DOI:10.1175/2010EI363.1.
  • Findell, Kirsten L., and Thomas L Delworth, February 2010: Impact of common sea surface temperature anomalies on global drought and pluvial frequency. Journal of Climate, 23(3), 485-503.
  • Schubert, S D., Thomas L Delworth, and Kirsten L Findell, et al., October 2009: A US CLIVAR project to assess and compare the responses of global climate models to drought-related SST forcing patterns: Overview and results. Journal of Climate, 22(19), doi:10.1175/2009JCLI3060.1.
  • Findell, Kirsten L., A J Pitman, M H England, and P J Pegion, June 2009: Regional and global impacts of land cover change and sea surface temperature anomalies. Journal of Climate, 22(12), doi:10.1175/2008JCLI2580.1.
  • Milly, P C.D., J Betancourt, M Falkenmark, R M Hirsch, Z W Kundzewicz, D Lettenmaier, and Ronald J Stouffer, 2008: Stationarity is dead: Whither water management? Science, 319(5863), doi:10.1126/science.1151915.
  • Findell, Kirsten L., Elena Shevliakova, P C D Milly, and Ronald J Stouffer, July 2007: Modeled impact of anthropogenic land cover change on climate. Journal of Climate, 20(14), doi:10.1175/JCLI4185.1.
  • Findell, Kirsten L., Thomas R Knutson, and P C D Milly, 2006: Weak simulated extratropical responses to complete tropical deforestation. Journal of Climate, 19(12), 2835-2850.
  • Held, Isaac, Thomas L Delworth, Jian Lu, Kirsten L Findell, and Thomas R Knutson, 2005: Simulation of Sahel drought in the 20th and 21st centuries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(50), doi:10.1073/pnas.0509057102.
  • Milly, P C.D., Krista A Dunne, and A V Vecchia, 2005: Global pattern of trends in streamflow and water availability in a changing climate. Nature, 438(7066), doi:10.1038/nature04312.