Water: too little, too much: Part II

by Judith Curry

I’m in Boulder, attending the NOAA Water Cycle Science Challenge Workshop.  The Workshop now has a website, which includes the plenary presentations.

This Workshop has been particularly interested from my participation because of the participation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which brings a broad range of decision making and technical needs to the table, plus a different kind of expertise than I have usually encountered in NOAA meetings on topics such of this.

Here are a few of the plenary presentations that I thought were particularly good and of broad interest:

Interagency Coordination – IWRSS  (Don Cline)

Drought – NIDIS  (Roger Pulwarty)

Predictions Under Change (PUC): Water, Earth & Biota in the Anthropocene  (Murugesu Sivapalan)

Land Surface Hydrology & Watershed Dynamics  (Jim McNamara)

My presentation was well received, in the sense that in generated a lot of discussion.  One notable point is that I received no pushback from anyone for my statements on the value of the 21st century climate models to support water decision making, and the usefulness of the PDO and AMO on decadal time scales.

The single topic that has my mind buzzing is the potential for war games application to decision making related to water.  This extends my “creative scenario development” in a very useful way.  The idea is to come up with a whole range of scenarios that would cross some sort of threshold for the system, i.e. a certain rainfall accumulation over a certain time and region.  Then identify possible precursor events that could cause this scenario.  Search for previous analogues and/or ensemble members in a forecast.  Some possibility or probability of occurrence of such an event would then trigger a decision tree based upon modeling and analysis that occurred well in advance of the actual event.

I also gained a better understanding of how difficult it is to predict drought (I think I’ll stick to floods in the near term) .

Overall, a very interesting meeting, and I am convinced that the recommendations will have real utility at least for the US Army Corps of Engineers (no predictions re NOAA).


15 responses to “Water: too little, too much: Part II

  1. William S. Bethard

    Keep up your good work.

    (Just wanted to beat Oliver to be the first to comment.) :)

    • Heck I slept late today, William, so you made it!

      RE: “The single topic that has my mind buzzing is the potential for war games application to decision making related to water.”

      All of my life I ignored conspiracy theories, although my research mentor made certain we were aware that governments use science and scientists for national security.

      Recently I remembered intriguing conspiracy hints that I had received from others when writing this forty-year (1971-2011) history of Climategate,


      1. President Eisenhower specifically warned of this danger ten years earlier in 1961, near the start of my research career:


      2. NASA Administrator Dr. Dan Goldin confirmed its presence in our space program in 1998, a few years before Climategate:


      During that 37 year period, I foolishly discounted all conspiracy theories!

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel

  2. Mining water
    A strongly growing critical shortage of water is clearly predictable by NASA’s GRACE monitoring of the water table in northwest India where water is being “mined” for irrigation faster than it is being replenished. See:
    <a href=NASA Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India's Vanishing Water

    “If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water,” said Rodell, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. . . . groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years (one foot per year). More than 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008 — double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga, and triple that of Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States. . .

    See small water shortage image or large image

    War Games
    Re “war games application to decision making related to water”
    Some insight into military strategy/planning can be seen in the German Military’s evaluation of Peak Oil, now out in English.

    When considering the consequences of peak oil, no everyday experiences and only few historical parallels are at hand. It is therefore difficult to imagine how significant the effects of being gradually deprived of one of our civilisation’s most important energy sources will be. Psychological barriers cause indisputable facts to be blanked out and lead to almost instinctively refusing to look into this difficult subject in detail.

    Peak oil, however, is unavoidable (p. 91).

    In its Joint Operating Environment 2010, the US DOD is making similar predictions

    • Further Links: From NASA on GRACE, India, watertable

      NASA Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India’s Vanishing Water

      India’s vanishing groundwater Video

      Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India, Matthew Rodell, Isabella Velicogna & James S. Famiglietti
      Nature Letters doi:10.1038/nature08238

      the Indian Ministry of Water Resources reports that groundwater withdrawals exceed recharge in the three states we studied2. Irrigation accounts for about 95% of the consumption2; about 28% of the area is irrigated23. Second, there was no shortage of rainfall in the region to cause a natural decline in water storage.

    • WRT peak oil, it seems we are finding more and more hydrocarbons. Once thought is that there is a whole lot more non-biogenic hydrocarbon trapped in the Earths crust. It seems these dooms day scenarios are driven by fear of the unknown, headline mongering, or worse.

      • Jim2
        You confuse “peak light oil” with “peak hydrocarbons”. The existence of enormous quantities of tar does not help the peaking and decline of light oil in a given region with a given technology. See production from the US 48 states.

        Neither quadrupling the price of oil and the major technological breakthrough of horizontal drilling was able to keep US 48 states light oil production from strongly declining from the 1970 peak. US 48 states production of light oil is now less than half of the peak production.

        Yes there are some 5 trillion bbl of bitumen and similar quantities of shale oil. Each requires a whole new technology and each goes through its own peak cycle for each geographic region.

  3. The Corps actually regulates the nations water resources. I am curious what utility you see from this conference?

    • Maybe the usefulness is that science knowledge and questions are discussed, including issues around climate change and the water cycle; and that current and future understanding of both climatic and nonclimatic factors that impact water management and water protection contribute information that is relevant for national planning and also for water negotiations and partnerships with other nations.

      • I do not see how the existing climate model can be useful if they are based on false science and math.

      • Questions and issues do not improve water resource management. These are valve turners. None of this climate speculation has anything to do with how reservoir levels are regulated. Nor are they going to build dams and irrigation systems where none are now needed, based on climate models.

  4. In Pulwarty’s presentation on Drought – NIDIS I saw no mention of solar cycles or the Hale cycle. Yet WJR Alexander 2007 found major correlations between precipitation/runoff and the ~21 year Hale cycle for southern Africa.

    Have any similar statistical analyses between drought/flood and the Hale cycle been made in any other regions? Such statistical correlation should be of strong interest to the Corps of Engineers with their responsibilities for flood control.

    The current Solar Cycle 23-24 is unusually low – less than half of some earlier predictions. See: OSS Solar Conditions
    Could this very low solar cycle 24 be having any impact on precipitation/drought?

  5. War games, good.

    Might also suggest two party games for each scenario, because war games where only one party is in control will tend to reflect more optimal solutions than will be arrived at by real events.

    Also, suggest examining scenarios after picking the wrong outcome of predictions. In some cases, playing the odds is worse than ignorance.

  6. One technic we use in security/public/tax policy to check their robustness is the folowing :
    “imagine that someone just want to break what you plan”… no reason, no interest… just silly evilness…
    how will he do… and start an ocean 11 plot…
    when the plot is set, just check if it is possible…
    in the case of climate, or fukushima like scenario it would be an evil divinity, a crasy group…

    for example at fukushima it could give.
    -how to make a catastrophe at fukushima plant…?
    -break the cooling
    – first break the electric line…
    – but the generator…
    – wait out of fuel
    – or break the tank
    – then wait out of battery
    – but one can bring fuel, even new fuel tank.
    – break the road
    – but by helicopter
    – break the government, break the civil defense…
    – how to break a governement?
    – a catastrophe, that kill tens of thouthands people
    – how to break the road, the electric line, the governement, kill thousands of people…
    – atomic bomb… in that case, caring about the power plant is useless?
    – earthquake ?
    – no, too common in japan… we are prepared.
    – tsunami ?
    – how to triger a tsunami big enough ?
    – level 9 earthquake in the sea nearby…
    – where ?
    – when we build the power plant we though that here it would be level 7 max, because the tectonic bloc where dissipating frequently, but recent analysies say that upt to 25% of the displacement is accumulated and not dissipated, so level 9 quakes are possible hear (source Pour La Science, french SciAm)
    – now we have a credible scenario… how did we ignore it ? now how to resist…

    now imagine that despite the protection, the evil god want to triger a new catastrophe…
    and so-on

    think about land-slide, plane crash, terrorists inside, team crasiness (LSD attack), pipe break…

    for extreme weather events, the timescale is longer, but the orinciple of the method is the same…

    this aproach should then be controlled by a probability/cost analysis…
    but the “evil god”/”ocean 11 plot” aproach is a good creativity tool.

  7. Judith,

    At least the look is at the regional level of changes and not lumped into a global event.
    So much current science fails in that regard of separating region in studying a global situation. Every region is unique on this planet due to many complex factors but the generalized theories on this globe does not recognize this.

  8. Alexander Harvey

    Here is a video presentation given last year:

    “Climate change Down Under: challenges, opportunities and uncertainty”


    It deals with some of the practicalities and theory involved with teasing some sort of rainfall projection from CMIP simulator runs focussing on SW Australia.

    I found it interesting and I will try and summarise what it appeared to be saying.

    Bearing in mind that the end user needs information regarding future rainfall at a much finer scale than the simulator grid, needs to know not just the amount but type of rainfall, e.g. a model that drizzles a bit every day is not very helpful, so they do their own downscaling.

    Interestingly they do this by extracting just three state variables from the simulator runs and precipitation is not one of them.

    They have a separately validated rainfall model (hidden markov) that takes in real world (reanalysis) mean seal level pressure, its north south graident, and the dewpoint temperature depression at 850mb (?) as the input series or predictors (?) and map that onto rainfall at their real world the rain gauges, so the can validate this step.

    They extract just those three state variables from the CMIP data and the same downscaling model projects that down to the local level.

    It is rather more technical than that for they attempt correction for biases in the models using 20th century comparisons. There are plenty of equations but the deepest part of the presentation is skimmed through.

    The process seems to divide into key stages:

    extraction of the indicative state variables from the simulator runs,
    breaking those time series down into underlying parameters,
    correcting and weighting those parameters,
    recombining back to the three state variables but with pdfs
    using their real world validated downscaler to project onto the locations.

    I think that there is something for everyone interested in making practical use of CMIP data, including some wit at the expense of the simulators.

    What I did find a bit worrying is just how ad hoc it all seemed to be, in the sense that it did not seem like there was an global approach into which one had only to plug in ones local modelling skills.