Groundwater & Climate Change

Climate change becomes of ever greater concern and although this issue is currently getting a great deal of attention, its effect on groundwater is still underexposed. IGRAC is, therefore, committed to deal with this pressing issue by getting involved in research and training activities linking groundwater and climate change.

Impact on Groundwater

Increased variability in precipitation and more extreme weather events caused by climate change can lead to longer periods of droughts and floods, which directly affects availability and dependency on groundwater. In long periods of droughts there is a higher risk of depletion of aquifers, especially in case of small and shallow aquifers. People in water-scarce areas will increasingly depend on groundwater, because of its buffer capacity.

At the same time, indirect climate change impacts such as the intensification of human activities and land use changes increase the demand for groundwater. Strategic use of groundwater for global water and food secu¬rity in a changing climate is becoming more and more important. This is another reason why groundwater should have a more prominent role in climate debates.

Saline and brackish groundwater 

Climate change does not only affects groundwater quantity, but also its quality. Sea level rise may lead to salt water intrusion into coastal aquifers affecting groundwater quality and contaminating drinking water sources. Once salt water has intruded into fresh water system it is difficult to reverse the process. Particular vulnerable are already low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states. On the other hand, saline/brackish groundwater bodies also represent opportunities for economic activities and ecosystems. Understanding this systems will promote effective management interventions in the face of climate change.

Climate change adaptation measures

Enhancing underground storage of water is a practical measure to augment the availability of fresh water and to enhance climate change adaptation. This measure, Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), involves building infrastructure and/or modifying the landscape to intentionally enhance groundwater recharge. MAR can be used to recover groundwater levels in over-exploited aquifers, to store water for future use or to control saltwater intrusion. MAR may also be applied to sustain or improve the functioning of ecosystems. Anticipation of groundwater impacts and groundwater potential are also key to identify possibilities for the communities and improve drought early action, through early warning systems.  

IGRAC and Climate Change

IGRAC has been involved in GRAPHIC, a project that promotes and advances sustainable groundwater management considering projected climate change and linked human effects. IGRAC has experience in MAR research both on local and regional level. Global Groundwater Monitoring Programme (GGMN) deals with climate change and, recently, a workshop was organised for pacific islands. These so called SIDS (Small Island Developing States) are due to their geophysical settings even more vulnerable to climate change than other states. The Global Overview of Saline Groundwater Occurrence and Genesis provides a description of saline/brackish groundwater bodies and an analysis on the impact in the change of this groundwater bodies to further support saline groundwater management.