Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-2024-313
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-2024-313
13 Feb 2024
 | 13 Feb 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Can large-scale tree cover change negate climate change impacts on future water availability?

Freek Engel, Anne J. Hoek van Dijke, Caspar T. J. Roebroek, and Imme Benedict

Abstract. The availability of fresh water over land may become increasingly scarce under climate change, and natural and human-induced tree cover changes can further enhance or negate the water scarcity. Previous studies showed that global tree cover change can have large impacts on water availability under current climate conditions, but did not touch upon the implications of global tree cover change under climate change. Here, we study the hydrological impacts of large-scale tree cover change (climate-induced changes in combination with large-scale afforestation) in a future climate (SSP3-7.0) following an interdisciplinary approach. By combining data from five CMIP6 climate models with a future potential tree cover dataset, six Budyko models, and the UTrack moisture recycling dataset, we can disentangle the impacts of climate change and future tree cover change on evaporation, precipitation, and runoff. We quantify per grid cell and for five selected river basins (Yukon, Mississippi, Amazon, Danube, and Murray-Darling) if tree cover changes enhance or counteract the climate-driven changes in runoff due to their impact on evapotranspiration and moisture recycling. Globally averaged, the impacts of climate change and large-scale tree cover change on runoff are of similar magnitude with opposite signs. While climate change increases the global runoff, the changing tree cover reverses this effect which overall results in a limited net impact on runoff relative to the present climate and current tree cover. Nevertheless, locally the change in runoff due to tree cover change and climate change can be substantial with increases and decreases of more than 100 mm year-1. We show that for approximately 16 % of the land surface, tree cover change can increase the water availability significantly. However, we also find that, for 14 % of the land surface, both tree cover change and climate change might decrease water availability with more than 5 mm year-1. For each of the selected catchments, the direction and magnitude of the impacts of climate change and tree cover change vary, with dominating climate change impacts in all basins except the Mississippi River basin. Our results show that ecosystem restoration projects targeting an altered tree cover should consider the corresponding hydrological impacts to limit unwanted (non-)local reductions in water availability.

Freek Engel, Anne J. Hoek van Dijke, Caspar T. J. Roebroek, and Imme Benedict

Status: open (until 30 Mar 2024)

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Freek Engel, Anne J. Hoek van Dijke, Caspar T. J. Roebroek, and Imme Benedict
Freek Engel, Anne J. Hoek van Dijke, Caspar T. J. Roebroek, and Imme Benedict

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Short summary
A warming climate alters the freshwater availability over land, and due to related tree cover change and potential forestation this availability can be further enhanced or negated. We find that large-scale change in tree cover counteracts climate-driven changes on a global scale, whereas regionally the climate and tree cover impacts can differ extensively. Current ecosystem restoration projects should account for the effects of (re)forestation on (non-)local water availability.