Beneath the surface of global change: Impacts of climate change on groundwater
Global change encompasses changes in the characteristics of inter-related climate variables in space and time, and derived changes in terrestrial processes, including human activities that affect the environment. As such, projected global change includes groundwater systems. Here, groundwater is defined as all subsurface water including soil water, deeper vadose zone water, and unconfined and confined aquifer waters. Potential effects of climate change combined with land and water management on surface waters have been studied in some detail. Equivalent studies of groundwater systems have lagged behind these advances, but research and broader interest in projected climate effects on groundwater have been accelerating in recent years. In this paper, we provide an overview and synthesis of the key aspects of subsurface hydrology, including water quantity and quality, related to global change. Adaptation to global change must include prudent management of groundwater as a renewable, but slow-feedback resource in most cases. Groundwater storage is already over-tapped in many regions, yet available subsurface storage may be a key to meeting the combined demands of agriculture, industry, municipal and domestic water supply, and ecosystems during times of shortage. The future intensity and frequency of dry periods combined with warming trends need to be addressed in the context of groundwater resources, even though projections in space and time are fraught with uncertainty. Finally, potential impacts of groundwater on the global climate system are largely unknown. Research to improve our understanding of the joint behaviors of climate and groundwater is needed, and spin-off benefits on each discipline are likely.