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The fate of the Caspian Sea under projected climate change and water extraction during the 21st century

Koriche, S. A., Singarayer, J. S. and Cloke, H. L. (2021) The fate of the Caspian Sea under projected climate change and water extraction during the 21st century. Environmental Research Letters, 16 (9). 094024. ISSN 1748-9326

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac1af5


The Caspian Sea (CS) delivers considerable ecosystem services to millions of people. It experienced water level variations of 3 m during the 20th century alone. Robust scenarios of future CS level are vital to inform environmental risk management and water-use planning. In this study we investigated the water budget variation in the CS drainage basin and its potential impact on CS level during the 21st century using projected climate from selected climate change scenarios of shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) and representative concentration pathways (RCPs), and explored the impact of human extractions. We show that the size of the CS prescribed in climate models determines the modelled water budgets for both historical and future projections. Most future projections show drying over the 21st century. The moisture deficits are more pronounced for extreme radiative forcing scenarios (RCP8.5/SSP585) and for models where a larger CS is prescribed. By 2100, up to 8 (10) m decrease in CS level is found using RCP4.5 (RCP8.5) models, and up to 20 (30) m for SSP245 (SSP585) scenario models. Water extraction rates are as important as climate in controlling future CS level, with potentially up to 7 m further decline, leading to desiccation of the shallow northern CS. This will have wide-ranging implications for the livelihoods of the surrounding communities; increasing vulnerability to freshwater scarcity, transforming ecosystems, as well as impacting the climate system. Caution should be exercised when using individual models to inform policy as projected CS level is so variable between models. We identify that many climate models either ignore, or do not properly prescribe, CS area. No future climate projections include any changes in CS surface area, even when the catchment is projected to be considerably drier. Coupling between atmosphere and lakes within climate models would be a significant advance to capture crucial two-way feedbacks.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:99643
Publisher:Institute of Physics


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