What is a precipitationshed?

Back to school

I have recently begun a PhD program at Stockholm University, based in the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the Dept. of Systems Ecology. Here is a short presentation I was invited to give  for the SRC’s “whiteboard talks” series:

I know, I should get a better eraser.

Analyzing Precipitationsheds

The first paper of this project was published in Biogeosciences (an EGU Open Access journal) in early 2012, and was entitled “Analyzing precipitationsheds to understand the vulnerability of rainfall dependent regions.” Here’s the abstract:

It is well known that rivers connect upstream and downstream ecosystems within watersheds. Here we describe the concept of precipitationsheds to show how upwind terrestrial evaporation source areas contribute moisture for precipitation to downwind sink regions. We illustrate the importance of upwind land cover in precipitationsheds to sustain precipitation in critically water stressed downwind areas, specifically dryland agricultural areas. We first identify seven regions where rainfed agriculture is particularly vulnerable to reductions in precipitation, and then map their precipitationsheds. We then develop a framework for qualitatively assessing the vulnerability of precipitation for these seven agricultural regions. We illustrate that the sink regions have varying degrees of vulnerability to changes in upwind evaporation rates depending on the extent of the precipitationshed, source region land use intensity and expected land cover changes in the source region.

Figure: The relative precipitationsheds for seven sink regions from the Keys et al. (2012) analysis. Dark colors indicate the sink region of precipitation, while the outline indicates the region that contributes 70% of the growing season rainfall. For additional information checkout the original article at Biogeosciences.

Relevance to this blog

In the coming months (years…) I’ll likely post new papers from this work to this blog. Why you ask? Because ultimately rainfall provides most of the ecosystem services that humanity depends on, not least of which is rainfed agriculture. Since large areas of the planet receive nearly all of their rainfall from land evaporation, resource security may be strongly related to the stable delivery of rain – which may be threatened by shifting land uses and/or climate change. Thus, the primary goal of my PhD will be to better understand whether the precipitationshed is a useful concept for managing rainfed resource security.

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