Improving Understanding of the Global Hydrologic Cycle

Observation and Analysis of the Climate System: The Global Water Cycle

Published: August 26, 2013 
Authors: Peter H. Gleick , Heather Cooley , James S. Famiglietti , Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Taikan Oki , Charles J. Vörösmarty , and Eric F. Wood

This chapter from the book Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modeling and Prediction Priorities addresses how understanding the complexity of the hydrological cycle is central to understanding a wide range of other planetary geological, atmospheric, chemical, and physical processes. Water is also central to other core economic, social, and political issues such as poverty, health, hunger, environmental sustainability, conflict, and economic prosperity. As society seeks to meet demands for goods and services  for a growing population, we must improve our understanding of the fundamental science of the hydrological cycle, its links with related global processes, and the role it plays in ecological and societal well-being. At the same time, human influences on the character and dynamics of the water cycle are growing rapidly. Central to solving these challenges is the need to improve our systems for managing, sharing, and analyzing all kinds of water data, and our ability to model and forecast aspects of both the hydrological cycle and the systems we put in place to manage human demands for water. We need to improve our understanding of each of the components of the hydrological water balance at all scales, and to understand the spatial and temporal variability in the components of the water cycle. This chapter provides a short summary of current World Climate Research Program (WCRP) efforts and addresses four primary research challenges:

1. The collection of more comprehensive data and information on all aspects of the hydrologic cycle and human uses of water, at enhanced spatial and temporal resolution and increased precision;
2. Improved management and distribution of these data;
3. Improved representation of the anthropogenic manipulations of the water cycle in the coupled land-atmosphere-ocean models used to forecast climate variations and change at both seasonal to interannual, and decade to century, time scales; and
4. Expanded research at the intersection of hydrological sciences and the technical, social, economic, and political aspects of freshwater management and use.

Download the chapter (PDF). 

This chapter is published in:
Peter H. Gleick , Heather Cooley , James S. Famiglietti , Dennis P. Lettenmaier,  Taikan Oki , Charles J. Vörösmarty , and Eric F. Wood. 2013. “Improving Understanding of the Global Hydrologic Cycle: Observation and Analysis of the Climate System: The Global Water Cycle.” In G.R. Asrar and J.W. Hurrell (eds.), Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modeling and Prediction Priorities, 10.1007/978-94-007-6692-1_6. Pp. 151-184. Springer, Dordrecht.

Keywords Hydrologic cycle • Water • Water systems • Climate • Modeling • Water balance • Data • GEWEX • GRACE • Water-energy nexus