DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adi1401 ISSN:

Warming temperatures exacerbate groundwater depletion rates in India

Nishan Bhattarai, David B. Lobell, Balwinder-Singh, Ram Fishman, William P. Kustas, Yadu Pokhrel, Meha Jain
  • Multidisciplinary

Climate change will likely increase crop water demand, and farmers may adapt by applying more irrigation. Understanding the extent to which this is occurring is of particular importance in India, a global groundwater depletion hotspot, where increased withdrawals may further jeopardize groundwater resources. Using historical data on groundwater levels, climate, and crop water stress, we find that farmers have adapted to warming temperatures by intensifying groundwater withdrawals, substantially accelerating groundwater depletion rates in India. When considering increased withdrawals due to warming, we project that the rates of net groundwater loss for 2041–2080 could be three times current depletion rates, even after considering projected increases in precipitation and possible decreases in irrigation use as groundwater tables fall. These results reveal a previously unquantified cost of adapting to warming temperatures that will likely further threaten India’s food and water security over the coming decades.

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