How will changes in the hydrological cycle govern future conditions on planet Earth?

Effects of climate change

Climate has been changing throughout geological times, but the emission of greenhouse gasses is changing climate at rates unprecedented in the past thousands of years. Climate change will not only lead to a global increase of temperatures, but it will also have major effects on the global water cycle, such as changing river regimes, glacier extents and ocean circulation. In turn, these changes will have large, often negative, effects on water and food security, flood hazards and the on the health of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Eventually such threats affect the wellbeing of our global population, which is expected to grow to 9 billion in the next 40 years.

Apart from the impacts of climate change on the water cycle and ecosystems, changes therein will also feedback on climate itself. In fact, to be able to understand how earth’s climate will respond to increased greenhouse gas concentrations requires that climate, water and ecosystems and their interaction are studied together. That is exactly what the research of the sub-theme Water, Climate and Ecosystems (WCE) is about.

WCE Research fields
Research fields within WCE

Four pillars

WCE research on the coupled climate system involves four pillars that contain the major strength of traditional research groups in Utrecht University: Climate, Oceans, Land and Water, and Ecosystems. The figure on the right provides a list of research fields that are present at Utrecht University to support these pillars. It shows how comprehensive the theme WCE really is. 

Integration of knowledge

This knowledge is integrated in the Global water cycle modelling initiative that strives to develop an integrated global water cycle modelling setup as active part of the climate system. Our goal is to study changes to the global water cycle under a changing climate including human impacts and the effects on ecosystems.

Apart from research on the mechanics of the coupled climate-water-ecosystems WCE also provides the scientific basis for practical solutions for mitigation of, and adaptation to environmental change. Here we partner with research institutes that help bridge the gap between science and practice.

Our system oriented research provides clues on what could be done to mitigate or adapt to climate change. How this could be done is studied in the research line Governance and Law. Here legal obstacles and opportunities for mitigation and adaptation measures are studied as well as governance arrangements to make these possible.