Threshold level of ΔTg leading to significant local changes in water resources (a) and terrestrial ecosystems (b)

Figure 1. Threshold level of ΔTg leading to significant local changes in water resources (a) and terrestrial ecosystems (b). (a) Coloured areas: river basins with new water scarcity or aggravation of existing scarcity (cases (1) and (2), see section 2.3.1); greyish areas: basins experiencing lower water availability but remaining above scarcity levels (case (3)); black areas: basins remaining water-scarce but without significant aggravation of scarcity even at ΔTg = 5 °C (case (4)). No population change is assumed here (see figure S5 available at stacks.iop.org/ERL/8/034032/mmediafor maps including population scenarios). Basins with an average runoff <10 mm yr−1 per grid cell are masked out. (b) Regions with severe (coloured) or moderate (greyish) ecosystem transformation; delineation refers to the 90 biogeographic regions. All values denote changes found in >50% of the simulations.

Abstract

This modelling study demonstrates at what level of global mean temperature rise (ΔTg) regions will be exposed to significant decreases of freshwater availability and changes to terrestrial ecosystems. Projections are based on a new, consistent set of 152 climate scenarios (eight ΔTg trajectories reaching 1.5–5 ° C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, each scaled with spatial patterns from 19 general circulation models). The results suggest that already at a ΔTg of 2 ° C and mainly in the subtropics, higher water scarcity would occur in >50% out of the 19 climate scenarios. Substantial biogeochemical and vegetation structural changes would also occur at 2 ° C, but mainly in subpolar and semiarid ecosystems. Other regions would be affected at higher ΔTg levels, with lower intensity or with lower confidence. In total, mean global warming levels of 2 ° C, 3.5 ° C and 5 ° C are simulated to expose an additional 8%, 11% and 13% of the world population to new or aggravated water scarcity, respectively, with >50% confidence (while ~1.3 billion people already live in water-scarce regions). Concurrently, substantial habitat transformations would occur in biogeographic regions that contain 1% (in zones affected at 2 ° C), 10% (3.5 ° C) and 74% (5 ° C) of present endemism-weighted vascular plant species, respectively. The results suggest nonlinear growth of impacts along with ΔTg and highlight regional disparities in impact magnitudes and critical ΔTg levels.