Washington, July 10 (ANI): A team of NASA-funded researchers have found that future concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone in the atmosphere and of nitrogen in the soil are likely to have an important but overlooked effect on the cycling of water from sky to land to waterways.
With the help of a modeling experiment, the researchers concluded that models of climate change may be underestimating how much water is likely to run off the land and back into the sea as atmospheric chemistry changes.
Runoff may be as much as 17 percent higher in forests of the eastern United States when models account for changes in soil nitrogen levels and atmospheric ozone exposure.
"Failure to consider the effects of nitrogen limitation and ozone on photosynthesis can lead us to underestimate regional runoff," said Benjamin Felzer, an ecosystem modeler at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.
"More runoff could mean more contamination and flooding of our waterways. It could also mean fewer droughts than predicted for some areas and more water available for human consumption and farming. Either way, water resource managers need more accurate runoff estimates to plan better for the changes," he added.
Felzer and colleagues used theoretical models to project various future scenarios for the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what it would mean to the changing water cycle in forests east of the Mississippi River.
They found that runoff would increase anywhere from 3 to 6 percent depending on location and the amount of the increase in CO2.
Felzer and colleagues also examined the role of two other variables - atmospheric ozone and soil-based nitrogen - in the changing water cycle.
Excess ground-level ozone harms the cells responsible for photosynthesis. Reductions in photosynthesis leads to less transpiration and cycling of water through leaves and more water added to runoff.
In most boreal and temperate forests, the rate of photosynthesis is also limited by the availability of nutrients such as nitrogen in the soil.
The less nitrogen in the soil, the slower their rate of photosynthesis and transpiration.
"The increase in runoff is even larger when nitrogen is limited and environments are exposed to high ozone levels," said Felzer.
In fact, the team found an additional 7 to 10 percent rise in runoff when nitrogen was limited and ozone exposure increased. (ANI)