Thursday, July 19, 2012

Better water research in the tropics needed in order to protect people

Lancaster University News: Research published in Nature Climate Change has highlighted how the water systems in the humid tropics are on the cusp of rapid change which is likely to put the people living in the region at greater risk of flood and contamination of their sources of drinking water. 

Lancaster hydrologist Dr Nick Chappell explains: “Land-use in the tropics is changing very quickly and extensively, more than any other global region, due to rainforest clearance or ‘deforestation’, rapid urbanisation and in some areas extensive planting of oil palm plantations with their high agro-chemical inputs. This combined with features of the accelerating water cycle - such as more intense rainfall and more ‘flashy’ rivers can lead to a greater incidence of flooding which would affect many people who live in the rapidly developing tropical region.”

“Tropical urbanisation without parallel developments in waste water management is also leading to serious contamination of rivers – one of the key water resources needed to provide drinking water for the region’s rapidly expanding populations.”

As current research in this area relies heavily on modelling a team of scientists, including Dr Nick Chappell, has developed a strategy to provide the observational evidence to improve understanding of how the combined effects of the changing water cycle and land-cover adjustments impact people in developing nations. The team recommends that:
  • Global models need to take more account of the tropical subsurface (shallow and deep groundwater) to more accurately predict the key components of the water cycle.
  • More attention should be given to field studies that address how the water system responds to extreme events for example : tropical cyclones, flood producing rainfalls and severe droughts
  • Hydrological measurements in many tropical countries are incomplete and need to be expanded with greater use of new technologies and data sharing
Dr Chappell said: “Only with such a research vision can the academic community deliver the understanding and evidence to underpin policies necessary that help the people of the humid tropics adapt to the unprecedented environmental change expected over the 21st century.”

A cumulonimbus cloud viewed from the International Space Station, over western Africa near the Senegal-Mali border

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