Imperial College London

Researchers to explore if Ganges River water use affects climate

Map of Dehli

£1.1 million consortium will analyse relationship between the climate and over-exploitation of water resources along Ganges River Basin– News

Thursday 27 October 2011
By Colin Smith

Determining if water usage patterns in northern India over the last 50 years are affecting the climate is the focus of new international £1.1 million collaboration announced today.

Researchers from Imperial College London are part of a UK and Indian academic consortium that is developing the most comprehensive computer models yet of the water cycle in the Ganges River Basin, which is one of the most heavily populated and farmed river basins in the world. The aim of the four year project is to determine if overuse of ground water resources is impacting on the fragile monsoonal climate in the region.

A deeper understanding of the complex water cycle in the Ganges River Basin system could lead to improved water management policies and a better understanding of the climate.

The last half century has seen a rapid development in the Ganges River Basin, which has led to the adoption of intensive farming practices and massive urbanisation. The equivalent of around 7 million Olympic sized swimming pools of water is drained from underground water reserves each year. Through poor water distribution systems and groundwater over exploitation, much of the water is lost, evaporating into the atmosphere. It is possible that this is affecting the climate, but there has been little previous research.

Dr Wouter Buytaert, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the College, who is Imperial’s lead on the project, says:

“The Ganges River Basin system is a major agricultural area that is also one of the mostly densely populated places in the world and both are putting huge strains on water resources. We just don’t have a clear enough picture yet if the way that the water is being used and managed is having a direct impact on the climate. If it is, we hope that our models will enable better policies to be developed, which could improve the future for millions of people living around this great river network.”

The researchers will compile more than 50 years of data about the region’s climate, geology and surface water usage, developing a model of the water cycle, which will show if there has been any effects on the climate. The model should also enable the team to predict what may happen in the future to the climate if current water management practices are continued.

Imperial researchers will investigate if over exploitation of the Ganges River Basin could be affecting the region's climate.

The project is supported by the Grantham Institute for Climate Change. Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Institute, says:

“We only have to look at neighbouring Pakistan to see how freak weather patterns can cause nationwide flooding along the Indus Valley, destroying lives and livelihoods in the process. However, what we know less about is the effects land and water management processes are having on the climate in the region. That is why studying the neighbouring Ganges River Basin is so important. I look forward to learning the outcomes of this study, which will help us climate researchers to develop a more in-depth understanding of the sensitivity of monsoonal climates to human activities in the regions in which they occur.”

The UK consortium members also include the University of Reading and British Geological Survey. The UK partners are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. Indian consortium members include the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpour and Roorkee, which are funded by the Indian Ministry of Sciences. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation is a non-funded partner.

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