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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #350016

Research Project: Management Technologies for Conservation of Western Rangelands

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Groundwater recharge in desert playas: current rates and future effects of climate change

Author
item Mckenna, Owen - Arizona State University
item Sala, Osvaldo - Arizona State University

Submitted to: Environmental Research Letters
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/1/2017
Publication Date: 1/19/2018
Citation: Mckenna, O.P., Sala, O.E. 2018. Groundwater recharge in desert playas: current rates and future effects of climate change. Environmental Research Letters. 13:014025. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa9eb6

Interpretive Summary: Our results from playas, which are topographic low areas situated in closed-catchments in drylands, indicated that projected climate change in Southwestern USA would have a net positive impact over runon and groundwater recharge beneath playas. Expected increased precipitation variability can cause up to a 300% increase in annual groundwater recharge beneath playas. We modeled catchment runoff generation and found that the amount of runon a playa receives annually strongly correlated to the rate of groundwater recharge beneath that playa. Runon occurred during precipitation events larger than 20 mm and increased linearly with events above that threshold.

Technical Abstract: Our results from playas, which are topographic low areas situated in closed-catchments in drylands, indicated that projected climate change in Southwestern USA would have a net positive impact over runon and groundwater recharge beneath playas. Expected increased precipitation variability can cause up to a 300% increase in annual groundwater recharge beneath playas. This increase will overshadow the effect of decreased precipitation amount that could cause up to a 50% decrease in recharge beneath playas. These changes could have a significant impact on groundwater and carbon storage. These results are important given that groundwater resources in Southwestern USA continue to decline due to human consumption outpacing natural recharge of aquifers. Here, we report on groundwater recharge rates ranging from less than 1 mm to greater than 25 mm per year beneath desert playas. Playas located in larger and steeper catchments with finer-textured soils had the highest rates of recharge. Vegetation cover had no effect on recharge beneath playas.We modeled catchment runoff generation and found that the amount of runon a playa receives annually strongly correlated to the rate of groundwater recharge beneath that playa. Runon occurred during precipitation events larger than 20 mm and increased linearly with events above that threshold.