Large scale surface–subsurface hydrological model to assess climate change impacts on groundwater reserves
Estimating the impacts of climate change on groundwater represents one of the most difficult challenges faced by water resources specialists. One difficulty is that simplifying the representation of the hydrological system often leads to discrepancies in projections. This study provides an improved methodology for the estimation of the impacts of climate change on groundwater reserves, where a physically-based surface–subsurface flow model is combined with advanced climate change scenarios for the Geer basin (465 km2), Belgium. Coupled surface–subsurface flow is simulated with the finite element model HydroGeoSphere. The simultaneous solution of surface and subsurface flow equations in HydroGeoSphere, as well as the internal calculation of the actual evapotranspiration as a function of the soil moisture at each node of the defined evaporative zone, improve the representation of interdependent processes like recharge, which is crucial in the context of climate change. More simple models or externally coupled models do not provide the same level of realism. Fully-integrated surface–subsurface flow models have recently gained attention, but have not been used in the context of climate change impact studies. Climate change simulations were obtained from six regional climate model (RCM) scenarios assuming the SRES A2 emission (medium–high) scenario. These RCM scenarios were downscaled using a quantile mapping bias-correction technique that, rather than applying a correction only to the mean, forces the probability distributions of the control simulations of daily temperature and precipitation to match the observed distributions. The same corrections are then applied to RCM scenarios for the future. Climate change scenarios predict hotter and drier summer and warmer and wetter winters. The combined use of an integrated surface–subsurface modelling approach, a spatial representation of the evapotranspiration processes and sophisticated climate change scenarios improves the model realism and projections of climate change impacts on groundwater reserves. For the climatic scenarios considered, the integrated flow simulations show that significant decreases are expected in the groundwater levels (up to 8 m) and in the surface water flow rates (between 9% and 33%) by 2080.