EARTH’S FRESHWATER FUTURE: “When you think about changing the distribution of precipitation, then you start to think that if you’re getting more heavy precipitation, that might mean more flooding,” said NASA’s Christa Peters-Lidard

Note to Reader:

NASA satellites are a prominent tool for accounting for water, as it constantly cycles from water vapor to rain and snow falling onto soils, and across and beneath the landscape. As Earth’s atmosphere warms due to greenhouse gases and the satellite data record continues to get longer and more detailed, scientists are studying how climate change is affecting the distribution of water.

NASA satellite data and ground measurements support research into long-term changes to water distribution. One of those efforts is the U.S. National Climate Assessment, which studies climate change and its potential impacts in each region of the country.

NASA scientists used tree rings to understand past droughts and climate models incorporating soil moisture data to estimate future drought risk in the 21st century. Credit: NASA. Download here

Earth’s Freshwater Future: Extremes of Flood and Drought

“Trends are beginning to emerge, especially at the extremes in the frequency and magnitude of floods and droughts. These trends affect everything from local weather to where crops can grow, and have consequences that will ripple through communities today and in the coming century,” wrote Ellen Gray and Jessica Merzdorf of NASA in an article that is part of a series that explores NASA research into Earth’s fresh water and surveys how those advances help people solve real world problems. Learn more.

How Much Rain; Heavy or Light

“When thinking about changes to the distribution of water around the planet, it’s not just knowing where it rains or doesn’t, but also how much, and how frequently heavy rain falls versus light rain,” continued the authors.

Rainfall amount impacts soils saturation and how high streams and rivers rise, which then changes their capacity to hold more in the event of another storm. Lack of rain stresses vegetation and supplemental water reserves, and when their frequency increases, those reserves are less likely to recover before the next dry spell.

“The future of fresh water will be full of extremes: Droughts will pose serious challenges to the safety, health, food and water supplies of plants, animals and humans in some regions, and floods will do the same in others,” the authors concluded.

To Learn More:

To read the complete article by Ellen Gray and Jessica Merzdorf of NASA, download Earth’s Freshwater Future: Extremes of Flood and Drought

With more heavy rainfall events, communities are more likely to see increases in minor flooding. Credit: NASA