Impact of Droughts Related to Climate Change on Water Resources in the High Plains Aquifer

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2014

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Drought is a critical issue, greatly increasing stress on limited water resources. The objective of this study was to assess the impacts of droughts, both past and potential future droughts, on water resources in the High Plains aquifer, which extends from Texas to Nebraska. Specific subtopics included examining impacts of paleoclimate on water resources and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 5 (AR5) 10–30 yr decadal hindcasts from 1960 through 2005 and the decadal climate prediction from 2006 through 2035, and specifically drought conditions, in this region. Specific subtopics addressed included evaluation of consumptive use requirements of irrigated lands as they relate to droughts and also the assessment of potential impacts on stream flow through stream baseflow discharge and groundwater quality related to agricultural practices.

The High Plains aquifer was greatly impacted by severe long-term droughts in the 1930s and 1950s, and more recently in 2011 through 2013. There is considerable debate about the causes of these droughts, ranging from random atmospheric forcing to sea surface temperature (SST). Understanding the causes of these droughts is important for predicting whether such droughts are likely to occur in the future. Will intensification of the hydrologic cycle increase the severity and/or limit the length of future droughts? Is there evidence from recent climate records in this region that the hydrologic cycle has been intensifying? The IPCC AR5 model outputs provided hindcasts and forecasts for 30 yr intervals at half-degree spatial resolution that were used to quantify variations in climate forcing.

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