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Global Freshwater Availability Below Normal Conditions and Population Impact Under 1.5 and 2 degrees C Stabilization Scenarios

Journal article
Authors W. B. Liu
W. H. Lim
F. B. Sun
D. Mitchell
H. Wang
Deliang Chen
I. Bethke
H. Shiogama
E. Fischer
Published in Geophysical Research Letters
Volume 45
Issue 18
Pages 9803-9813
ISSN 0094-8276
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 9803-9813
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.1029/2018gl078789
Keywords 1.5 degrees C warming, water availability, global scale, shortage, population, climate-change impact, model simulations, degrees-c, drought, scarcity, resources, runoff, 1.5-degrees-c, streamflow, hydrology
Subject categories Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources, Climate Research

Abstract

Based on the large ensembles of the half a degree additional warming, prognosis, and projected impacts historical, +1.5 and +2 degrees C experiments, we quantify changes in the magnitude of water availability (i.e., precipitation minus actual evapotranspiration; a function of monthly precipitation flux, latent heat flux, and surface air temperature) below normal conditions (less than median, e.g., 20th percentile water availability). We found that, relative to the historical experiment, water availability below normal conditions of the +1.5 and +2 degrees C experiments would decrease in the midlatitudes and the tropics, indicating that hydrological drought is likely to increase in warmer worlds. These cause more (less) people in East Asia, Central Europe, South Asia, and Southeast Asia (West Africa and Alaska/Northwest Canada) to be exposed to water shortage. Stabilizing warming at 1.5 degrees C instead of 2 degrees C would limit population impact in most of the regions, less effective in Alaska/Northwest Canada, Southeast Asia, and Amazon. Globally, this reduced population impact is similar to 117 million people. Plain Language Summary This study emerges from the lack of scientific investigations to inform climate policy about differences between two global warming targets (i.e., 1.5 and 2 degrees C) for the "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C." We seek to understand the following: How would water availability below normal conditions (the drier end of hydrological extremes) change at these targets? How would they affect the water shortage of human society? Could we limit the impact by stabilizing the global warming at 1.5 degrees C instead of 2 degrees C? To address these questions, we employ the HAPPI (half a degree additional warming, prognosis, and projected impacts) experiments, explicitly designed to differentiate impacts between these targets. Relative to the historical period, future water availability below normal conditions (less than median, e.g., 20th percentile or lower) would decrease in the midlatitudes and the tropics; the globe and most of the regions would endure water shortages. Relative to the 2 degrees C warming target, stabilizing temperature increase at 1.5 degrees C would constrain adverse impact on people suffering water shortages in most of the regions (particularly Central Europe, East Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and West Africa) but ineffective in Alaska/Northwest Canada, Southeast Asia, and Amazon. A global sum of this reduced risk is similar to 117 million people.

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