Modeling the Temporal Variability of Karst Groundwater Vulnerability, with Implications for Climate Change


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March 2009


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change studies predict that global warming will alter the distribution of water resources. As much drinking water is sourced from groundwater, it is important to determine how this vital resource will be affected by climate change. In this issue’s Feature, two University of Basel researchers discuss a model of karsts—the limestone regions that supply drinking water in many areas, especially in Europe. Using field measurements and numerical modeling Butscher and Huggenberger show how predicting both future water quantity and quality can determine the resource’s vulnerability. They argue that such methods permit the proactive adaptation of water management policies to the new reality of climate change. Water is one of the most valuable natural resources of all, crucial to human and all other kinds of life. Changes in water quantity and quality are considered to have strong environmental and socio-economic consequences. Global warming due to the so-called “greenhouse effect” is reported to cause changes in precipitation patterns and evapotranspiration. In Europe, for example, it has been predicted that record-breaking heat waves, such as the one experienced in 2003, will become more frequent (1). At the same time, even as summers become drier, the incidence of severe precipitation events could increase (2). Freshwater resources are among the ecological systems that are particularly vulnerable to climate change (3). That many ecological systems rely on groundwater resources, only changes in hydrological regimes and water quality will have a strong environmental impact. For example, groundwater is a natural habitat for very specialized species, such as sightless and non-pigmented crawfish and cavefish, and it performs an important ecological function as a feeder of springs, rivers, and lakes. Additionally many public sectors and services such as water supply, agriculture, and industry depend on the availability of groundwater resources: shortfalls will have negative socio-econom


Modeling, Temporal Variability, Karst Groundwater Vulnerability, Climate Change, Groundwater Resources, Sustainable Management Plans

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Environmental Science & Geology, Vol. 43 (2009-03-12).