Climate Change and Water Security

Global climate is changing due to fossil fuel use and other human activities which influences global and local water supply. Our lab uses models to understand and predict these changes and to inform resource management.

Global Trends and Local Variation

Over the next 100 years, globally-averaged surface temperature is predicted to increase 2-4°C in addition to the observed increase of 1°C that has already occurred. This increase is attributable to human activities including fossil fuel use.

Effects of the changing climate are regionally-specific. Spatial variation is substantial in the influences to local temperature, humidity, and precipitation. Our lab uses models to understand and predict local variation.

Water Supply

Climate warming can influence the water cycle significantly, changing the rates of precipitation, snow accumulation and melt, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and runoff. Changes in the water cycle in turn alter water supply.

Water availability is important for ecosystem function and for human communities. In the short term, changes in supply modify productivity and sensitivity to disturbances such as fire and disease. Longer term, ecosystem composition and biodiversity are also affected. Shifts in ecosystems influence surface and groundwater resources.

Analyses of observed streamflow and other hydrologic data show that water system responses to climate change are wide ranging. In some regions, streamflow increases whereas others see more frequent and severe drought. Explaining the differences in water supply changes requires understanding not only how local climates, landscapes, and ecosystems exhibit control on water, but also how these controls shift and interact in warmer conditions.

Eco-hydrologic modeling bridges the gap between historical observations and future projections. This assists in local assessments of climate change impacts on water resources and potential adaption strategies.

Research Questions
  • What determines surface and groundwater patterns in a particular place?
  • Are the variables that influence surface and groundwater likely to change under climate warming and if so, how and how quickly?
  • How do temperature, water availability and other climate related variables influence ecosystems and their vulnerability to disturbances?
  • How do climate driven changes in ecosystems influence water resources?
  • How might land management (thinning, logging, development) interact with climate change to influence water supplies and other ecosystem services?
  • How can we adapt to a changing climate though land and water resource management?


Relevant Poster Presentations

The following are recent poster presentations given by members of our lab at various conferences. Click a figure to view the presentation.

Relevant Publications

The following papers are examples of how our labs uses models to better understand climate change impacts on water resources.

  • Tague, C.L., Moritz, M.A. (2019) Plant Accessible Water Storage Capacity and Tree-Scale Root Interactions Determine How Forest Density Reductions Alter Forest Water Use and Productivity, Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 2:36. 
  • Tague, C.L., Moritz, M., Hanan, E. (2019) The changing water cycle: The eco‐hydrologic impacts of forest density reduction in Mediterranean (seasonally dry) regions, WIREs 6(4). 
  • Chen, X., Tague, C.L., Melack, J.M., Keller, A.A. (2020) Sensitivity of nitrate concentration-discharge patterns to soil nitrate distribution and drainage properties in the vertical dimension, Hydrological Processes doi: 10.1002/hyp.13742 
  • Barnhart, T. B., Tague, C. L., & Molotch, N. P. (2020). The counteracting effects of snowmelt rate and timing on runoff. Water Resources Research, 56, e2019WR026634.