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Climate Change and the Hydrologic Cycle

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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.

Research Highlights

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