Publication Abstracts

Aminzade 2011

Aminzade, J., 2011: Water Availability in a Warming World. Ph.D. thesis. Columbia University.

As climate warms during the 21st century, the resultant changes in water availability are a vital issue for society, perhaps even more important than the magnitude of warming itself. Yet our climate models disagree in their forecasts of water availability, limiting our ability to plan accordingly. This thesis investigates future water availability projections from Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere General Circulation Models (GCMs), primarily using two water availability measures: soil moisture and the Supply Demand Drought Index (SDDI).

Chapter One introduces methods of measuring water availability and explores some of the fundamental differences between soil moisture, SDDI and the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). SDDI and PDSI tend to predict more severe future drought conditions than soil moisture; 21st century projections of SDDI show conditions rivaling North American historic mega-droughts. We compare multiple potential evapotranspiration (EP) methods in New York using input from the GISS Model ER GCM and local station data from Rochester, NY, and find that they compare favorably with local pan evaporation measurements. We calculate SDDI and PDSI values using various EP methods, and show that changes in future projections are largest when using EP methods most sensitive to global warming, not necessarily methods producing EP values with the largest magnitudes.

Chapter Two explores the characteristics and biases of the five GCMs and their 20th and 21st century climate projections. We compare atmospheric variables that drive water availability changes globally, zonally, and geographically among models. All models show increases in both dry and wet extremes for SDDI and soil moisture, but increases are largest for extreme drying conditions using SDDI. The percentage of gridboxes that agree on the sign of change of soil moisture and SDDI between models is very low, but does increase in the 21st century. Still, differences between models are smaller than differences between SDDI and soil moisture projections.

Chapter Three addresses the three major differences between SDDI and soil moisture calculations that shed light on why their future projections diverge: evaporation approximations, dependence on previous months' conditions, and the inclusion of additional variables such as runoff. We implement various changes in SDDI and a GCM vegetation scheme to test the sensitivity of each measure and to evaluate which alterations increase the similarity between SDDI and soil moisture.

In addition to deconstructing the differences between SDDI and soil moisture, we analyze their projections regionally in Chapter Four. In seven regions (the southwest U.S., southern Europe, eastern China, eastern Siberia, Australia, Uruguay and Colombia), we 1) assess the forecasts of future water availability changes, 2) compare the atmospheric dynamical processes that produce rainfall and drought in the real world to the way it occurs in individual GCMs, 3) determine how these processes change as global temperatures increase, and 4) identify the most likely scenarios for future regional water availability.

Chapter Five summarizes key findings by chapter, enumerating this dissertation's contributions to the field. It then discusses the limitations of existing models and measures, and suggests potential solutions for overcoming their predictive shortfalls. Finally, the chapter concludes with a proposal for future research to expand upon this dissertation work.

This thesis highlights the global and zonal differences between two water availability measures, SDDI and soil moisture and identifies regions where they agree and disagree in 21st century modeled scenarios. It provides an explanation for differing projections in soil moisture and SDDI and proves that it is possible to bring convergence to their future projections, which is also applicable to PDSI. Finally, a detailed analysis of climatic changes from five GCMs made it possible to present the most likely scenarios for 21st century water availability in seven regions.