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Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences

Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences

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Published by earthandlife

New research opportunities to advance hydrologic sciences promise a better understanding of the role of water in the Earth system that could help improve human welfare and the health of the environment. Reaching this understanding will require both exploratory research to better understand how the natural environment functions, and problem-driven research, to meet needs such as flood protection, supply of drinking water, irrigation, and water pollution. Collaboration among hydrologists, engineers, and scientists in other disciplines will be central to meeting the interdisciplinary research challenges outline in this report. New technological capabilities in remote sensing, chemical analysis, computation, and hydrologic modeling will help scientists leverage new research opportunities. http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Challenges-Opportunities-Hydrologic/13293

New research opportunities to advance hydrologic sciences promise a better understanding of the role of water in the Earth system that could help improve human welfare and the health of the environment. Reaching this understanding will require both exploratory research to better understand how the natural environment functions, and problem-driven research, to meet needs such as flood protection, supply of drinking water, irrigation, and water pollution. Collaboration among hydrologists, engineers, and scientists in other disciplines will be central to meeting the interdisciplinary research challenges outline in this report. New technological capabilities in remote sensing, chemical analysis, computation, and hydrologic modeling will help scientists leverage new research opportunities. http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Challenges-Opportunities-Hydrologic/13293

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Published by: earthandlife on Feb 04, 2013
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Report Summary
 
2
H
ydrologic
 
science
 
is
 
at
 
the
 
core
 
of
 
understanding
 
the
 
role
 
of
 
 water
in the Earth systemand can help improve environmental health and sustain human welfare. Furthering this understanding willrequire both exploratory research, to better understand how the natural environment functions, and
problem-driven research, to meet needs such as ood protection, adequate supply of drinking water, irrigation,
and protection against water contamination. Collaboration among hydrologists, engineers, and scientists inother disciplines will be central to meeting this challenge. New technological capabilities in remote sensing,chemical analysis, computation, high resolution data, and hydrologic modeling will enable scientists to leverage
new research opportunities and advance the eld in unprecedented ways over the next decade.
Hydrologic science is, at its most basic level, the science of water. Hydrologic scientists are driven by
curiosity about how the natural environment functions, and the eld addresses challenging questions includingunderstanding the fundamental water processes that link the land, the ocean, and the atmosphere, with effects
on the well-being of humans and ecosystems. This blend of curiosity-driven and problem-driven research offersunique opportunities for advancing the water science to meet the needs of the changing planet.
The signature of a scientic challenge is that it
is compelling, both in the domain of intellectualcuriosity as well in the domain of consequence forhuman and ecosystem welfare. This report presentsthree major areas which represent compelling andsocietally important challenges and opportunities in thehydrologic sciences: understanding the water cycle, therole of water for life, and clean water for people andecosystems. These three areas, all equally important,
offer the potential for signicant progress by taking
advantage of advances in theoretical understanding andnew techniques, technologies, and instrumentation thathave developed over the past few decades.The water cycle—the movement of water throughevaporation, transport through the atmosphere,
precipitation, and river and groundwater ow—is
central to the processes that formed Earth and
continue to inuence its evolution. Understanding how
water has acted throughout the history of Earth, and
how water cycles work on other planets, will broaden
understanding of how earth’s water cycle functions.
Human Inuences on Water Availability and Distribution
Over the twentieth century, human actions tomeet increasing water demands from agriculture,transportation, and industry have “replumbed” thehydrologic cycle. For example, intensive groundwaterpumping and the construction of large reservoirsand water diversion projects to support populationgrowth and development have altered ground- andsurface water supplies (see
Figure 1
).At the same time, warming temperatures and shiftingprecipitation patterns due to climate change havealso impacted the water cycle, prompting questions
about how future climate change will inuence theduration, severity, and extent of oods and droughts,
how water distribution and availability is affected by
Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences
Te 1991 National Research Council report 
Opportu-nities in the Hydrologic Sciences,
known as the
“BlueBook,”
envisioned the hydrologic sciences as a distinct  geoscience and set orth a corresponding researchagenda. In the years since its release, the report hasstimulated discussion and activities leading to therecognition o hydrologic sciences as a separate feld within the Earth Sciences. oday, hydrologic sciencesextends into areas traditionally o interest to other  felds and related subdisciplines.
The Water Cycle: An Agent of Change
 
3
land use change, and how regional climate changeprojections can be developed and used in planning.
Understanding how hydrologic uxes will change
in response to replumbing is critical to provideand maintain water supplies for humans and theenvironment.
Critical and Unknown Hydrologic Fluxes
Water moves via evaporation from the ocean or landsurface, transpiration from vegetation, and throughsoils into groundwater aquifers. These hydrologic
uxes connect the water, energy, and biochemical
cycles and help regulate climate, transport nutrients
and sediment, and replenish aquifers. Understanding
of the movement of water over large regions isincomplete, and direct information on the patternsand dynamics of evaporation, transpiration and
groundwater uxes is needed. Remote sensing
measurements, ground-based measurements, andmodeling will help develop this understanding.
Understanding Variability at Multiple,Coupled Scales
The many processes that dene water uxes
range in scale from turbulent gusts of wind to
large weather systems, and from the rst drops of 
water that initiate streams to the complex river
systems that dene drainage basins. Over the past
few decades, there have been major advances inunderstanding and modeling hydrologic processes
such as precipitation, soil moisture, and streamow,and in developing conceptual frameworks for
describing variability across a wide range of scales
(known as scaling theories). Areas where challenges
still exist include understanding how processes atsmall scales interact with those at larger scales tocontribute to the hydrologic response. This includes
uncovering scaling laws for specic rainfall-runoff 
events and understanding how human replumbing of the landscape impacts hydrology, from small to largewatershed scales.
FIGURE 1.
THE CONSTRUCTION OFDAMS AND CANALS HAS TRANSFORMEDTHE GLOBAL WATER CYCLE.
In the United States, the geographical
extent of dams and reservoirs hasincreased dramatically over the past200 years (top). This trend extends toother developed parts of the world, withriver regulation expanding rapidly inthe 20th century (middle). Water infra-structure and increasing water use havealtered groundwater supplies (bottom).The graph on the left shows interbasintransfer for hydroelectric production,the middle graph shows the impact of the
Aswan High Dam on the Nile River, andthe right-hand graph shows ow deple
-tion due to cotton production in the
Aral Sea contributing basin. SOURCE:
Vörösmarty et al. (2004) American
Geophysical Union.

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