Remotely sensed reservoir water storage dynamics (1984-2015) and the influence of climate variability and management at a global scale

Jiawei Hou, Albert I.J.M. Van Dijk, Hylke E. Beck, Luigi J. Renzullo, Yoshihide Wada

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16 Scopus citations


Many thousands of large dam reservoirs have been constructed worldwide during the last 70 years to increase reliable water supplies and support economic growth. Because reservoir storage measurements are generally not publicly available, so far there has been no global assessment of long-term dynamic changes in reservoir water volumes. We overcame this by using optical (Landsat) and altimetry remote sensing to reconstruct monthly water storage for 6695 reservoirs worldwide between 1984 and 2015. We relate reservoir storage to resilience and vulnerability and investigate interactions between precipitation, streamflow, evaporation, and reservoir water storage. This is based on a comprehensive analysis of streamflow from a multi-model ensemble and as observed at ca. 8000 gauging stations, precipitation from a combination of station, satellite and forecast data, and open water evaporation estimates. We find reservoir storage has diminished substantially for 23% of reservoirs over the three decades, but increased for 21%. The greatest declines were for dry basins in southeastern Australia (-29%), southwestern USA (-10%), and eastern Brazil (-9%). The greatest gains occurred in the Nile Basin (+67%), Mediterranean basins (+31%) and southern Africa (+22%). Many of the observed reservoir changes could be explained by changes in precipitation and river inflows, emphasizing the importance of multi-decadal precipitation changes for reservoir water storage. Uncertainty in the analysis can come from, among others, the relatively low Landsat imaging frequency for parts of the Earth and the simple geo-statistical bathymetry model used. Our results also show that there is generally little impact from changes in net evaporation on storage trends. Based on the reservoir water balance, we deduce it is unlikely that water release trends dominate global trends in reservoir storage dynamics. This inference is further supported by different spatial patterns in water withdrawal and storage trends globally. A more definitive conclusion about the impact of changes in water releases at the global or local scale would require data that unfortunately are not publicly available for the vast majority of reservoirs globally.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3785-3803
Number of pages19
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 19 2022
Externally publishedYes

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Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-02-14


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