A Pitt Meadows earth scientist is conducting research that will be used by governments worldwide to assess the impacts of climate change.
Simon Fraser University professor Diana Allen recently co-authored a new paper about how climate changes impacts on the world’s groundwater.
The groundwater expert says climate change may already be adding to many countries’ water stress. Demands for increased food production, combined with prolonged droughts in many regions of the planet, are already placing high demands on groundwater for agriculture.
Climate-change-related stresses on fresh surface water, such as glacier-fed rivers, will likely exacerbate that situation.
“Add to that our mismanagement and inadequate monitoring of groundwater usage, and we may see significant groundwater depletion and contamination that will seriously compromise much of the world’s agriculturally-grown food supply,” she said.
World leaders will soon be apprised of such concerns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) periodically reviews the latest research on climate change and assesses its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. The IPCC was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988.
This is the second study that Allen and her colleagues have produced to assist the IPCC in assessing the impact of climate change on the world’s groundwater supply. The paper was published in late 2012 in the journal Nature Climate Change . This study is one of several guiding the IPCC’s formulation of upcoming reports, the next being about the physical science behind climate change, due in September 2013.
Allen values the work of the IPCC.
“It is important to have an international body that is trying to be as objective as it can be,” she said.
Any scientific climate change debate is about whether the cause is man-made as a result of carbon emissions, or part of a natural weather cycle.
“The signs are there – things are definitely changing,” she said.
In Ground Water and Climate Change , Allen and several other international scientists explain how several human-driven factors, if not rectified, will combine with climate change to significantly reduce usable groundwater availability for agriculture globally.
The authors note that inadequate groundwater supply records and mathematical models for predicting climate change and associated sea-level-rise make it impossible to forecast groundwater’s long-range fate globally.
“Over-pumping of groundwater for irrigation is mining dry the world’s ancient Pleistocene-age, ice-sheet-fed aquifers and, ironically, at the same time increasing sea-level rise, which we haven’t factored into current estimations of the rise,” says Allen. “Groundwater pumping reduces the amount of stored water deep underground and redirects it to the more active hydrologic system at the land-surface. There, it evaporates into the atmosphere, and ultimately falls as precipitation into the ocean.”
Current research estimates oceans will rise by about a meter globally by the end of the century due to climate change. But that estimation doesn’t factor in another half-a-centimetre-a-year rise, says this study, expected due to groundwater recycling back into the ocean globally.
Allen said B.C. dragged its feet on groundwater protection, finally getting regulations in 2004. When she moved to B.C. from Ontario, she was outspoken about the lack of regulation.
“I thought it was kind of crazy,” she said.
Generally, she said decision makers still do not have a good understanding of aquifers and how to protect groundwater.
“People with water wells on their property are more aware of the need to protect the resource, and that it can be limited if you extract it at a rate that is too high for its rate of replenishment,” she said.
“The bigger problem now is long periods of drought.”