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Volume 22, issue 8 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 4311-4328, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 15 Aug 2018

Research article | 15 Aug 2018

Remote land use impacts on river flows through atmospheric teleconnections

Lan Wang-Erlandsson1,2,3, Ingo Fetzer1, Patrick W. Keys1,4, Ruud J. van der Ent2,5, Hubert H. G. Savenije2, and Line J. Gordon1 Lan Wang-Erlandsson et al.
  • 1Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B, 104 05, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2Department of Water Management, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands
  • 3Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN), 457-4 Motoyama, Kamigamo, Kita-ku, 603-8047 Kyoto, Japan
  • 4School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
  • 5Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80 115, 3508 TC Utrecht, the Netherlands

Abstract. The effects of land-use change on river flows have usually been explained by changes within a river basin. However, land–atmosphere feedback such as moisture recycling can link local land-use change to modifications of remote precipitation, with further knock-on effects on distant river flows. Here, we look at river flow changes caused by both land-use change and water use within the basin, as well as modifications of imported and exported atmospheric moisture. We show that in some of the world’s largest basins, precipitation was influenced more strongly by land-use change occurring outside than inside the basin. Moreover, river flows in several non-transboundary basins were considerably regulated by land-use changes in foreign countries. We conclude that regional patterns of land-use change and moisture recycling are important to consider in explaining runoff change, integrating land and water management, and informing water governance.

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Short summary
Winds carry air moisture from one place to another. Thus, land-use change that alters air moisture content can also modify downwind rainfall and distant river flows. This aspect has rarely been taken into account in studies of river flow changes. We show here that remote land-use change effect on rainfall can exceed that of local, and that foreign nation influence on river flows is much more prevalent than previously thought. This has important implications for both land and water governance.
Winds carry air moisture from one place to another. Thus, land-use change that alters air...