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Dynamics of Terrestrial Water Storage Change from Satellite and Surface Observations and Modeling

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  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
  • | 3 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Terrestrial water storage (TWS) is a fundamental component of the water cycle. On a regional scale, measurements of terrestrial water storage change (TWSC) are extremely scarce at any time scale. This study investigates the feasibility of estimating monthly-to-seasonal variations of regional TWSC from modeling and a combination of satellite and in situ surface observations based on water balance computations that use ground-based precipitation observations in both cases. The study area is the Klamath and Sacramento River drainage basins in the western United States (total area of about 110 000 km2). The TWSC from the satellite/surface observation–based estimates is compared with model results and land water storage from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) data. The results show that long-term evapotranspiration estimates and runoff measurements generally balance with observed precipitation, suggesting that the evapotranspiration estimates have relatively small bias for long averaging times. Observations show that storage change in water management reservoirs is about 12% of the seasonal amplitude of the TWSC cycle, but it can be up to 30% at the subbasin scale. Comparing with predevelopment conditions, the satellite/surface observation–based estimates show larger evapotranspiration and smaller runoff than do modeling estimates, suggesting extensive anthropogenic alteration of TWSC in the study area. Comparison of satellite/surface observation–based and GRACE TWSC shows that the seasonal cycle of terrestrial water storage is substantially underestimated by GRACE.

Corresponding author address: Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-2700. Email: dennisl@u.washington.edu

Abstract

Terrestrial water storage (TWS) is a fundamental component of the water cycle. On a regional scale, measurements of terrestrial water storage change (TWSC) are extremely scarce at any time scale. This study investigates the feasibility of estimating monthly-to-seasonal variations of regional TWSC from modeling and a combination of satellite and in situ surface observations based on water balance computations that use ground-based precipitation observations in both cases. The study area is the Klamath and Sacramento River drainage basins in the western United States (total area of about 110 000 km2). The TWSC from the satellite/surface observation–based estimates is compared with model results and land water storage from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) data. The results show that long-term evapotranspiration estimates and runoff measurements generally balance with observed precipitation, suggesting that the evapotranspiration estimates have relatively small bias for long averaging times. Observations show that storage change in water management reservoirs is about 12% of the seasonal amplitude of the TWSC cycle, but it can be up to 30% at the subbasin scale. Comparing with predevelopment conditions, the satellite/surface observation–based estimates show larger evapotranspiration and smaller runoff than do modeling estimates, suggesting extensive anthropogenic alteration of TWSC in the study area. Comparison of satellite/surface observation–based and GRACE TWSC shows that the seasonal cycle of terrestrial water storage is substantially underestimated by GRACE.

Corresponding author address: Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-2700. Email: dennisl@u.washington.edu

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