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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Vegetation plays an important role in mediating future water resources

  • Author(s): Ukkola, AM
  • Keenan, TF
  • Kelley, DI
  • Prentice, IC
  • et al.

� 2016 IOP Publishing Ltd. Future environmental change is expected to modify the global hydrological cycle, with consequences for the regional distribution of freshwater supplies. Regional precipitation projections, however, differ largely between models, making future water resource projections highly uncertain. Using two representative concentration pathways and nine climate models, we estimate 21st century water resources across Australia, employing both a process-based dynamic vegetation model and a simple hydrological framework commonly used in water resource studies to separate the effects of climate and vegetation on water resources. We show surprisingly robust, pathway-independent regional patterns of change in water resources despite large uncertainties in precipitation projections. Increasing plant water use efficiency (due to the changing atmospheric CO2) and reduced green vegetation cover (due to the changing climate) relieve pressure on water resources for the highly populated, humid coastal regions of eastern Australia. By contrast, in semi-arid regions across Australia, runoff declines are amplified by CO2-induced greening, which leads to increased vegetation water use. These findings highlight the importance of including vegetation dynamics in future water resource projections.

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