BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Influence of Groundwater Extraction Costs and Resource Depletion Limits on Simulated Global Nonrenewable Water Withdrawals over the 21st Century
Published: January 28, 2019
Posted: August 21, 2019

Global groundwater depletion is projected to peak and then decline during this century as costs of using it change.

The Science
Because water is a fundamental human need, estimating future supplies is important. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) coupled regionally varying groundwater availability and extraction cost estimates with continually adjusted demands for water in a simulation that covered multiple sectors around the world. As groundwater levels dropped, imposing greater capital and energy costs to bring water to the surface, modeled water use sectors responded by drawing from other water resources. These behaviors resulted in a marked peak and decline in the rate of global groundwater depletion.

The Impact
Previously it was assumed that the rate of global groundwater depletion would increase steadily over the 21st century as humans demanded more water—particularly for crop production. This work suggests that groundwater depletion may actually decline, because the increasing costs of pumping will force water users to adapt by turning to less expensive sources, which are often in regions where renewable water remains plentiful.

In many regions of the world, groundwater reserves are being depleted rapidly. This raises concerns for the sustainability of irrigated agriculture and global food supplies. It is therefore important to study groundwater depletion and possible exhaustion of water resources at a global scale. A problem for such analysis is the lack of detailed understanding of when a depleting resource becomes unviable for further exploitation. The question is not simply how much water is physically available; we need to know when the financial costs and environmental effects of extracting more groundwater render the resource unviable for human applications. To study these effects, PNNL researchers employed a global, gridded data set that specifies the cost of groundwater extraction as a function of depletion. Then, using the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), they simulated water users as economic decision makers to understand how they would adapt as extraction costs increased. Results indicated that future rates of global groundwater depletion would be heavily moderated by increasing extraction costs. Regions that depleted water to costly levels lost competitive advantage for crop production, which shifted to regions where water resources were less costly and more plentiful. The team concluded that extraction costs must be included in simulations for projections of global groundwater depletion to be reliable.

Contacts (BER PM)
Bob Vallario
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research
Climate and Environmental Sciences Division (SC-23.1)
Multisector Dynamics

(PI Contact)
Leon Clarke
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

(PNNL Contact)
Mohamad Hejazi
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research through the Multisector Dynamics, Earth and Environmental System Modeling Program.

Turner, S. W. D., M. Hejazi, C. Yonkofski, S. H. Kim, and P. Kyle. “Influence of groundwater extraction costs and resource depletion limits on simulated global nonrenewable water withdrawals over the twenty-first century.” Earth’s Future 7(2),123−135 (2019). [DOI: 10.1029/2018EF001105]

Related Links

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Multisector Dynamics (formerly Integrated Assessment)

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)