Study develops integrated water modeling framework

Sept. 27, 2022
A team of IIASA researchers integrated the Community Water Model with the groundwater flow model MODFLOW, allowing for an integrated modeling framework that can estimate water resources at high special resolution, with grid cells smaller than 1 km.

A new study applies a large-scale model to link surface water to groundwater, which could be used to estimate water resources with high spatial resolution.

With climate change and rising water demand, tools to accurately model water availability are becoming more necessary. Existing large-scale models tend to oversimplify groundwater flow, often do not adequately account for human water management, and operate at lower resolutions than what small-scale hydrologic processes would need.

In the new study in Geoscientific Model Development, a team of researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) paired the Community Water Model (CWatM) with the groundwater flow model MODFLOW, allowing for the reproduction of water tables at very fine spatial resolutions. The integrated model simulates hydrological processes occurring in soil and surface water bodies at the hillslope scale, with grid cells smaller than 1 km. It can be used to model water cycles at various geographical levels, ranging from small basins to entire countries.

By comparing the Austrian Seewinkel region and the Indian Bhima basin, extending over 573 and 46,000 km² respectively, the researchers tested the model’s capacity to adequately reproduce water tables under different climatic, geological, and socioeconomic conditions. The simulated results were validated with observed water table depths and fluctuations over a period of 35 years in Seewinkel and 16 years in Bhima.

“These biophysical models are important because water cycles need to be quantified for proper water management,” says Luca Guillaumot, the study’s lead author and a researcher in the IIASA Water Security Research. “We can study how local and regional water processes interact by linking models at different scales. In particular, a model like CWatM-MODFLOW is a useful tool to project the impact of future water management plans, land cover changes, or climate change,”

Furthermore, the authors used the model to assess the impact of groundwater-based irrigation on the water cycle in the two regions under investigation. They found that irrigation increases the amount of water that moves into the atmosphere through evaporation from soil and transpiration through plant tissues, but reduces groundwater support to rivers and humid areas, especially during dry seasons. The results also indicate that the water table is deeper in areas with intense irrigation pumping.

Despite persistent challenges in reproducing water table depth patterns and calibrating the model at resolutions as fine as possible (~100m), the study represents a significant improvement in large-scale hydrological modeling.