Royal Society Publishing

Land cover change and water vapour flows: learning from Australia

Line Gordon, Michael Dunlop, Barney Foran


Australia is faced with large–scale dryland salinization problems, largely as a consequence of the clearing of native vegetation for cropland and grassland. We estimate the change in continental water vapour flow (evapotranspiration) of Australia during the past 200 years. During this period there has been a substantial decrease in woody vegetation and a corresponding increase in croplands and grasslands. The shift in land use has caused a ca. 10% decrease in water vapour flows from the continent. This reduction corresponds to an annual freshwater flow of almost 340 km3. The society–induced alteration of freshwater flows is estimated at more than 15 times the volume of run–off freshwater that is diverted and actively managed in the Australian society. These substantial water vapour flow alterations were previously not addressed in water management but are now causing serious impacts on the Australian society and local economies. Global and continental freshwater assessments and policy often neglects the interplay between freshwater flows and landscape dynamics. Freshwater issues on both regional and global levels must be rethought and the interplay between terrestrial ecosystems and freshwater better incorporated in freshwater and ecosystem management.

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