Not even developed countries are safe from the effects of climate change, according to a new paper that estimates that Germany will be experiencing significantly falling groundwater levels by the end of the century.
The world our children will inherit is going to be very different from the one we know today. That line holds both the promise of hope, as science and know-how improve our lives, as well as a measure of sadness — processes like climate change will upend many of the things we take for granted today.
One of those things is water. Groundwater levels in Germany will fall “significantly” by the end of the century if climate change is not addressed. Such a scenario will put massive pressure on local water resources, threatening water and food security for the country. The process is likely to occur in other areas of the world as well.
“Our scientific study exclusively covered direct climatic impacts and changes. Anthropogenic factors, such as groundwater extraction, were not considered,” says Andreas Wunsch from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s Institute of Applied Geosciences (AGW), first author of the study.
Water is essential to life, from bacteria to animals, from civilized to wild. Groundwater is one of the most important sources of this liquid in many areas of the world, especially those that are not bordering a body of freshwater. Vast swathes of our communities today are heavily reliant on such water for drinking, agriculture, and hygiene.
A warming global climate will have a significant effect on the factors that affect water distribution around the globe. Changes in patterns of precipitation, in the onset and features of different seasons, sea level, glacier distribution, and mean temperatures are some of the most important of these factors. Scientists have already warned that unless we steer to a new course and wean off our need for fossil fuels, we can expect to see changes in the cycle of fresh water on Earth together with water shortages in the future. Their warnings are already starting to materialize in many different areas of the world with droughts in urban areas and wild ecosystems.
New research comes to report that nations in Europe will face their share of water problems due to climate change, as well.
The study, published by researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) used AI to generate several forecast methods on how groundwater resources in Germany will evolve throughout the 21st century under different climate change scenarios.
The team used data on groundwater levels at various locations in the country, which they fed through a deep-learning algorithm. The scenarios that the system tested were drawn from those defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and ranged from increases in global mean temperature under 2 degrees Celsius (the “low” scenario) and up to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, the latter being the business-as-usual scenario and likely outcome if no changes are made. A moderate scenario of a 2.6 degree Celsius increase by 2100 was also modeled. All these temperature increases are relative to pre-industrial levels.
According to the results, all three scenarios will result in some increase in the occurrence and severity of droughts in the region, lead to falling groundwater levels, and will impact overall water availability in Germany. While the two most optimistic scenarios showed less-intense shifts in these regards, the team reports that the business-as-usual scenario led to a significant fall in the groundwater levels at most locations.
“The results of this prognosis are particularly relevant to the near future, as this scenario is closest to today’s situation,” says co-author Dr. Tanja Liesch from the AGW.
“Future negative impacts will be particularly visible in North and East Germany, where the corresponding developments have already started. Here, longer periods of low groundwater levels threaten to occur by the end of the century in particular,” adds Dr. Stefan Broda from BGR.
Given that the two lower scenarios showed much less severe changes in groundwater levels and water availability in Germany, the team is confident that a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would have a sizable and positive effect on these resources in the future.
Groundwater levels indicate the depth (or altitude) at which geological structures become saturated with water. A low level corresponds to lower quantities of water available in an area, while a high level indicates that the opposite is true. Falling groundwater levels mean that wells have to be dug deeper to extract water — which increases costs of extraction and can leave existing infrastructure useless. It can also severely impact crops and wild plants, as they could become cut off from the water they need to survive.
The paper “Deep learning shows declining groundwater levels in Germany until 2100 due to climate change” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.