Drylands cover over 40% of the global land area and are home to more than 2 billion humans. Here, we use the terrestrial water storage (TWS) anomaly data derived from GRACE satellites to assess water storage changes globally and find that drylands lost ~15.9 ± 9.1 mm of water between April 2002 and January 2017. The TWS trends are more significant and apparent in dry regions than in humid regions. The decrease in TWS occurred mainly in hyperarid and arid regions. Exact causes to the observed declines in TWS remain elusive due to anthropogenic water withdrawals, atmospheric demand (potential evapotranspiration, PET) in contrast to supply (precipitation, P) caused by the warming, and terrestrial ecohydrological responses. Therefore, we use a process-based model forced by climate data to interpret the causes over three selected dryland regions showing the strongest drying trends. We find that the modeled TWS without considering anthropogenic water withdrawals explains most of the declining GRACE TWS over the southwestern North America (NA) and Middle East but underestimates the drying trend over North China. This suggests that TWS declines in the southwestern NA and the Middle East were primarily driven by the contrast between atmospheric demand and supply, whereas anthropogenic water withdrawals may have played a relatively more dominant role in TWS declines over North China. Additional model experiments indicate that terrestrial ecohydrological processes that help extract deep substrate water are critical for providing water supply additional to precipitation to sustain ET in the drying drylands at decadal scales.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology