(a) Comparison of per drought event simulated deficit volumes (m3) under pristine conditions (climate variability only) and under transient human water consumption with those calculated from observed streamflow in a logarithmic scale over 23 major river basins that are affected by human water consumption
Figure 1. (a) Comparison of per drought event simulated deficit volumes (m3) under pristine conditions (climate variability only) and under transient human water consumption with those calculated from observed streamflow in a logarithmic scale over 23 major river basins that are affected by human water consumption. The observed streamflow was taken from the selected GRDC stations closest to outlets. (b) Frequency distribution of correlation coefficient and slope per river basin from (a). Five worst drought events were selected from each of 23 major river basins. Note that for fair comparison, deficit volume was calculated with the threshold level Q80 that was derived respectively from each streamflow time series: from the GRDC observations; from the simulated streamflow under pristine conditions; from the simulated streamflow under transient human water consumption. River basins (GRDC stations; station number; available period used) selected: Orinoco (Puente Angostura; 3206720; 1960–1990), Parana (Corrientes; 3265300; 1960–1992), Nile (El Ekhsase; 1362100; 1973–1985), Blue Nile (Khartoum; 1663100; 1960–1983), White Nile (Malakal; 1673600; 1960–1996), Orange (Vioolsdrif; 1159100; 1964–1987), Zambezi (Katima Mulilo; 1291100; 1964–2002), Murray (below Wakool Junction; 5304140; 1960–2002), Mekong (Mukdahan; 2969100; 1960–1994), Brahmaputra (Bahadurabad; 2651100; 1969–1993), Ganges (Hardinge Bridge; 2646200; 1965–1993), Indus (Kotri; 2335950; 1967–1980), Yangtze (Datong; 2181900; 1960–1989), Huang He (Sanmenxia; 2180700; 1960–1989), Mississippi (Vicksburg; 4127800; 1960–2000), Columbia (The Dalles; 4115200; 1960–2000), Mackenzie (Norman Wells; 4208150; 1961–2002), Colorado (Yuma; 4152050; 1965–1990), Volga (Volgograd Power Plant; 6977100; 1960–2002), Dnieper (Dnieper Power Plant; 6980800; 1960–1985), Danube (Ceatal Izmail; 6742900; 1960–2002), Rhine (Rees; 6335020; 1960–2002), Elbe (Wittenberge; 6340150; 1960–2002).
Over the past 50 years, human water use has more than doubled and affected streamflow over various regions of the world. However, it remains unclear to what degree human water consumption intensifies hydrological drought (the occurrence of anomalously low streamflow). Here, we quantify over the period 1960–2010 the impact of human water consumption on the intensity and frequency of hydrological drought worldwide. The results show that human water consumption substantially reduced local and downstream streamflow over Europe, North America and Asia, and subsequently intensified the magnitude of hydrological droughts by 10–500%, occurring during nation- and continent-wide drought events. Also, human water consumption alone increased global drought frequency by 27 (±6)%. The intensification of drought frequency is most severe over Asia (35 ± 7%), but also substantial over North America (25 ± 6%) and Europe (20 ± 5%). Importantly, the severe drought conditions are driven primarily by human water consumption over many parts of these regions. Irrigation is responsible for the intensification of hydrological droughts over the western and central US, southern Europe and Asia, whereas the impact of industrial and households' consumption on the intensification is considerably larger over the eastern US and western and central Europe. Our findings reveal that human water consumption is one of the more important mechanisms intensifying hydrological drought, and is likely to remain as a major factor affecting drought intensity and frequency in the coming decades.