Human water consumption intensifies hydrological drought worldwide

Yoshihide Wada, Ludovicus P.H. Van Beek, Niko Wanders, Marc F.P. Bierkens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

281 Scopus citations

Abstract

Over the past 50 years, human water use has more than doubled and affected streamflow over various regions of the world. However, it remains unclear to what degree human water consumption intensifies hydrological drought (the occurrence of anomalously low streamflow). Here, we quantify over the period 1960-2010 the impact of human water consumption on the intensity and frequency of hydrological drought worldwide. The results show that human water consumption substantially reduced local and downstream streamflow over Europe, North America and Asia, and subsequently intensified the magnitude of hydrological droughts by 10-500%, occurring during nation- and continent-wide drought events. Also, human water consumption alone increased global drought frequency by 27 (±6)%. The intensification of drought frequency is most severe over Asia (35 ± 7%), but also substantial over North America (25 ± 6%) and Europe (20 ± 5%). Importantly, the severe drought conditions are driven primarily by human water consumption over many parts of these regions. Irrigation is responsible for the intensification of hydrological droughts over the western and central US, southern Europe and Asia, whereas the impact of industrial and households' consumption on the intensification is considerably larger over the eastern US and western and central Europe. Our findings reveal that human water consumption is one of the more important mechanisms intensifying hydrological drought, and is likely to remain as a major factor affecting drought intensity and frequency in the coming decades. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-09-18

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment

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