“In a nonstationary world, continuity of observations is critical”*

Visualization of a very wavy Northern Hemisphere jet stream. (NASA)

Groundwater isn’t static anymore…

It is true that groundwater as a natural resource has never been truly static, in the sense that it is constantly moving from points of recharge to points of natural discharge. All components of the hydrological cycle, including groundwater, move continually in response to large-scale physical drivers and the energy dynamics of phase changes.

However, these physical drivers have increasingly been altered as a result of climate change. As presented in the POLICY FORUM of the periodical Science, a column titled Stationarity is Dead: Whither Water Management* states “climate change undermines a basic assumption that historically has facilitated management of water supplies, demands, and risks.”

….in that the foundational assumption of hydrologic stationarity is no longer valid.

Climate change undermines the foundational assumption of stationarity. Simply, stationarity is the premise that measurable processes of natural systems vary in predictable ways, within unchanging bounds of variability. The column further states “Stationarity is dead because substantial anthropogenic change of Earth’s climate is altering the means and extremes of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and rates of discharge of rivers.”*

Visualization of a very wavy Northern Hemisphere jet stream. (NASA)
Visualization of a very wavy Northern Hemisphere jet stream. (NASA)

All hydrological sciences have been built around the assumption of stationarity, as have the practical applications of water management and engineering. The effect of global climate change on the probability of hydrologic events and the traditional practice of water science is a profound complication.

Understanding local hydrology and groundwater resources requires, more than ever before, the collection of local, continuous hydrologic data.

As stated in the Science column “In a nonstationary world, continuity of observations is critical.”* This argues that greater temporal and spatial density of data are required to build the hydrologic understanding to meet local and regional groundwater challenges.

How this affects you.

The need for continuous hydrological data is increasing, while the ability of government agencies to collect and interpret these data is flat or declining. Even when funds for science are more readily available, state and federal agencies can not collect data at a pace and in enough places to address issues most important to local communities. Fortunately, municipalities, communities, and other stakeholders can now join together as SPONSORS and MEMBERS to create powerful networks of Wellntel systems to provide the “continuity of observations” that focuses directly on their most critical groundwater resource concerns.

*Milly and others, Stationarity Is Dead: Whither Water Management?, Science  01 Feb 2008: Vol. 319, Issue 5863, pp. 573-574.